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Photo#942806
Arboreal centipede in hollow twig - Hemiscolopendra marginata

Arboreal centipede in hollow twig - Hemiscolopendra marginata
Florence, Lauderdale County, Alabama, USA
June 22, 2014
Size: 5 cm long
Found in a dead twig (in the hollow pith) of Paulownia tomentosa, twig 2 meters above ground and 1.5 cm in outer diameter. Found while splitting twigs looking for ants. This centipede, and another I believe to be the same kind found in the hollow pith of a woody shrub, has me wondering about the biology of centipedes in twigs occurring well above ground in temperate North America.

The ID is correct
I have found this species in Tennessee under bark on fallen trees significantly above ground (around 5 ft). I don't know much about their occurrence inside twigs but they certainly are more arboreal than most centipedes. Their habit of climbing also explains their tendency to get into houses.

I suspect many centipedes are more adept at climbing than we know, mostly because centipede collectors have focused on ground sampling methods (Berlese funnels, pitfalls, sifting through soil, etc.). Hemiscolopendra is a prime example. Oddly, I have recorded Schendyla nemorensis, an abundant burrowing centipede in the northeast, from a funnel trap in a tree designed to sample for flying insects (specifically buprestid beetles). I'm not sure how it got there ... I'm having trouble convincing myself that a slow-moving, subterranean species climbed up a tree and fell in ... perhaps it was carried by a flying predator?

The main issue with centipedes and climbing is that they are very prone to dehydration. Their spiracles can't close, and they lack the waxy coating around their cuticle that insects, millipedes, and arachnids have. So a species that moves above ground has to remain at least slightly moist somehow, but the space underneath bark can hold plenty of moisture. Hemiscolopendra also happens to be one of the largest centipedes in the area, so they would take a lot longer to dry out.

Hope this helps :)

 
arboreal centipedes
Thanks Joseph. Interesting that you have unexplained centipedes high in living trees. Having seen quite a few centipedes now in hollow twigs attached to living woody plants, I'm convinced that centipedes climb plants, maybe they hunt at night and seek refuge where they can during the day. I don't know one centipede from another, but some of the centipedes I've seen in twigs above ground have little heads. My bet is that your burrowing centipede was on a high adventure. Even pill bugs (Armadillidium I think) can be found high in trees when conditions are right.

 
Interesting ...
I'd be very interested in a photograph (or a specimen, if possible) of some of the centipedes with "little heads" ... that sounds to me like the soil centipede genus Strigamia, another one that isn't "supposed" to be arboreal ... are they red by any chance? Or pale but with dark diamond markings on the back?

Also interesting about the pill bugs, I didn't know that but it does seem to suggest the treetops aren't as inaccessible to ground-dwelling inverts as one might think. Are these all in the same type of tree?

Moved tentatively
Moved from ID Request.

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