Ferocious predator or useful indicator species?
Centipedes are certainly not most people’s idea of cute or endearing: with those rapidly moving legs and fearsome pincers, they can look quite formidable. They are fierce predators and their venom can be potent enough to kill a small reptile or mammal. However, the species also have the potential to be a valuable conservation monitoring tool.
Hi! I’m Sara, the current intern at Bon Bon Station Reserve and new PR manager for centipedes. I’m examining whether this misunderstood and maligned species could be useful in helping us determine how well our introduced predator control measures are working.
"Why centipedes of all creatures?" I hear you ask.
Many studies have noted that foxes and cats opportunistically eat invertebrates, and at times when food is scarce, they can become a crucial form of sustenance. While examining the stomach contents of introduced predators culled on the reserve, Restoration Officer Kate Taylor noticed that invertebrates (and specifically centipedes) featured regularly in the diet of cats and foxes. Invertebrates were found in 25 out of 59 cat stomachs, and 95 out of 135 fox stomachs.
What was most impressive was that one fox had eaten 63 centipedes in a single night!
Thus we know that cats and foxes prey on invertebrates. In addition, invertebrates tend to be more abundant and more easily sampled than small mammals and reptiles. Consequently, we want to examine whether invertebrate abundance varies across the reserve in a way that reflects the density of foxes and cats in that area.
If so, the aim is to develop them into an indicator species that we can sample over time in order to see whether their population changes with the implementation of different predator control measures.
To determine whether this is possible, we're exploring different methods of capturing invertebrates, and specifically centipedes, to determine which method is most effective. This includes: using standard pitfall traps, small vials that are intended to capture invertebrates only, laying out hay as a bait to attract them, and actively searching for them.
So while centipedes might not be the friendliest looking creatures, I hope I’ve convinced you that they can be incredibly valuable in our conservation efforts. They're also important predators in the ecosystem, and despite their reputation, generally only strike out when provoked.
Remember to respect and give some space to your many-legged friends.
For me, this project has been a doorway to paying attention to an often overlooked taxa: despite their critical role in so many ecosystem functions such as pollination, pest control, and nutrient cycling, invertebrates are often neglected in conservation work. My hope is that this project will shed a light on another way in which they could prove to be incredibly useful for our conservation efforts.