Killer in the Compost Bin

Dropping off last night's veggie scraps at our compost bin, I caught sight of a large centipede that scurried across the slatted wall as I opened the lid.  These carnivorous arthropods date back to the Silurian Period, some 440 million years ago, when they were among the first animals to colonize the land.

Today, more than 3000 species have been documented across the globe, inhabiting a wide range of ecosystems, from rocky seashores to deserts, from caves to alpine landscapes and from tropical rainforests to Arctic wetlands.  The varied species range in size from less than a quarter inch to a foot or more in length; the largest is the giant centipede of the Amazon basin, which is known to consume a variety of amphibians, lizards, songbirds and mice.  Most species feed on earthworms and other small invertebrates, using their foreleg pincers to grab prey and inject venom.

Despite their name, centipedes may have 30 to several hundred legs.  Since they do not have a waxy cuticle to prevent dehydration, centipedes must spend most of their time in dark, moist environments and are primarily active at night.  Of course, a shady, humid compost bin, filled with rotting vegetation, beetles and earthworms, offers an ideal hunting grounds for these fast-moving carnivores.