Centipede Research

Research on the Chilopoda is presently limited to Dr. Shelley’s lab at the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences (NCSM), and involves taxonomic and faunal studies in the order Scolopendromorpha. The focus is on this order for three main reasons: 1) it includes the conspicuous, large-bodied species that are well known to the general public; 2) the larger scolopendromorphs can deliver a painful bite and hence can hurt humans; and 3) the taxonomic problems with this order are less severe than those with the more diverse orders Lithobiomorpha and Geophilomorpha, where the difficulties greatly complicate and hinder their research. The initial objectives were to elucidate the North American fauna, and early publications included faunistic studies on North Carolina & Florida (Shelley 1987, Shelley & Edwards 1987) and treatments of the subfamily Plutoniuminae (Cryptopidae) (Shelley 1990, 1997; Shelley & Backeljau 1995). Basic taxonomic research was necessary to clarify and stabilize names (Hoffman & Shelley 1996, Shelley 2000a), and all this work culminated in a faunistic study of the entire North American fauna (Shelley 2002), which was published by the Virginia Museum of Natural History and can be ordered through their website at http://www.vmnh.net/centipede.htm. The continental fauna is also summarized, with photos and distribution maps of certain taxa, on the NCSM website at http://www.naturalsciences.org/research/inverts/centipedes/index.html. At the request of colleagues in Hawaii, Dr. Shelley has also authored or co-authored works on the centipede fauna of this state, most of which is introduced (Shelley 1991, 2000b; Zapparoli and Shelley 2000; Bonato et al. 2004).

The scolopendromorph centipede research has recently expanded beyond North America into the Neotropical region, but there has also been one publication on an Australian species (Shelley 2000c, Shelley & Heatwole 1996, Shelley & Kiser 2000). Dr. Shelley is now functioning as a co-advisor to Amazonas Chagas Junior, a centipede graduate student at the Museo Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who visited the NCSM from August-November 2003 on a “mini-PEET” grant from the Society for Systematic Biology. The focus of Amazonas’ research is a revision of the subfamily Scolopocryptopinae (Scolopocryptopidae), which occurs in the New World, western Africa, and along the Pacific Rim from Japan to New Guinea, and the first publication is a treatment of the genus Newportia in Mexico and a description of an obligatory cave species (Chagas & Shelley 2003). A number of additional, joint studies on the Neotropical fauna are in progress; ones currently in varying stages of completion are as follows:

1. First authentic record of Scolopendra morsitans from North America and a review of its global occurrences (in preparation).

2. A catalog of New World species of Scolopendra (in preparation).

3. The genus Cormocephalus on Caribbean islands (in preparation).

4. The genus Hemiscolopendra in Mexico (planned).

5. A popularized, illustrated key to scolopendromorph genera in the Western Hemisphere (planned).

6. Review of the genus Rhoda (in preparation).

7. New records, species, and synonymies in the genus Tidops (planned).


Dr. Shelley is also collaborating with J. G. E. Lewis, in the UK, and G. Edgecombe, in Australia, on a work standardizing centipede terminology, which has been submitted to a journal for publication.  He is also collaborating with 8 other specialises on an international project, funded by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, to develop a web-based taxonomic listing of all currently recognized centipede species in the world; Drs. Shelley and Lewis, and Amazonas Chagas, are preparing the listing for the Scolopendromorpha.

There is ample opportunity for molecular-based studies on scolopendromorphs that would involve Dr. Bond’s lab. Examples of questions regarding the Scolopendromorpha that can only be resolved in this manner include the following:

1. Resolution of the phenotypic similarities between Theatops erythrocephalus, in the Balkan and Iberian peninsulas of Europe, and T. californiensis, in California & Oregon, USA, which are essentially identical externally (see Shelley 1997, 2002).

2. Resolution of the phenotypic similarities between Scolopocryptops rubiginosus, in Japan and northeast Asia, and the form in the midwestern US that currently bears this name. The type locality is in the former region, so the name is properly applied to the Asian form and a new name may be required for the US species if molecular analyses show that the are specifically distinct (see Shelley 2002).

Selected References

Bonato, L., D. Foddai, A. Minelli, & R. M. Shelley. 2004. The centipede order Geophilomorpha in the Hawaiian Islands (Chilopoda). Bishop Museum Occasional Papers, 78:13-32.

Chagas, A., & R. M. Shelley. 2003. The centipede genus Newportia Gervais, 1847, in Mexico: description of a new troglomorphic species; redescription of N. sabina Chamberlin, 1942; revival of N. azteca Humbert & Saussure, 1869; and a summary of the fauna (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopocryptopidae: Newportiinae). Zootaxa, 379:1-20.

_____, _____. 2004. Rediscovery and redescription of the centipede, Paracryptops inexpectus Chamberlin, 1914, with an account of the genus (Scolopendromorpha: Cryptopidae: Cryptopinae). Zootaxa, 475:1-8.

Hoffman, R. L., & R. M. Shelley. 1996. The identity of Scolopendra marginata Say (Chilopoda: Scolopendromorpha: Scolopendridae). Myriapodologica, 4(5):35-42.

Shelley, R. M. 1987. The scolopendromorph centipedes of North Carolina, with a taxonomic assessment of Scolopocryptops gracilis peregrinator (Crabill) (Chilopoda: Scolopendromorpha). Florida Entomologist, 70:498-512.

_____. 1990. The centipede Theatops posticus (Say) (Scolopendromorpha: Cryptopidae) in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 68:2637-2644.

_____. 1991. Deletion of the centipede Theatops spinicaudus (Wood) from the Hawaiian fauna (Scolopendromorpha: Cryptopidae). Bishop Museum Occasional Papers, 31:182-184.

_____. 1997. The Holarctic centipede subfamily Plutoniuminae (Chilopoda: Scolopendromorpha: Cryptopidae) (nomen correctum ex subfamily Plutoniinae Bollman, 1893). Brimleyana, 24:51-113.

_____. 2000a. Neotype designation for the centipede Mycotheres leucopoda Rafinesque (Scolopendromorpha: Cryptopidae). Myriapodologica, 7(2):15-17.

_____. 2000b. The centipede order Scolopendromorpha in the Hawaiian Islands (Chilopoda). Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 64:39-48.

_____. 2000c. Occurrence of the centipede, Dinocryptops miersii (Newport) (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopocryptopidae), in Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean Journal of Science, 36(1-2):155-156.

_____. 2002. A synopsis of the North American centipedes of the order Scolopendromorpha (Chilopoda). Virginia Museum of Natural History Memoir No. 5:1-108.

_____. 2004. Otocryptops gracilis berkeleyensis Verhoeff, 1938, a synonym of Scolopocryptops gracilis Wood, 1862 (Chilopoda: Scolopendromorpha: Scolopocryptopidae).  Ent. News, 114(1):57.

_____. 2004. Occurrences of the centipedes, Scolopendra morsitans L. and S. subspinipes Leach, on Pacific Islands (Chilopoda: Scolopendromorpha: Scolopendridae).  Ent. News, 115(2):79-83. 

____, & A. Chagas. 2004. The centipede genus Arthrorhabdus Pocock, 1891, in the Western Hemisphere: potential occurrence of A. pygmaeus (Pocock, 1895) in Belize (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopendridae: Scolopendrinae).  Western North American Naturalist, 64(4):532-537.

_____, _____. 2005(2004). Perustigmus and Perustigminae Verhoeff, 1941, invalid genus- and family-group names in the centipede family Scolopendridae (Scolopendromorpha).  Ent. News, 115(3):178-179.

_____, & D. L. Six. 2004. Discovery of the centipede Scolopocryptops gracilis Wood in Montana (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopocryptopidae).  Western North American Nat., 64(2):257-258.

_____, & G. B. Edwards. 1987. The scolopendromorph centipedes of Florida, with an introduction to the common myriapodous arthropods. Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Entomology Circular No. 300:1-4.


____, ____.  2004.  A fourth Floridian record of the centipede genus Rhysida Wood, 1862; potential establishment of R. l. longipes (Newport, 1845) in Miami-Dade County (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopendridae: Otostigminae).  Entomological News, 115(2):116-119.

_____, & T. Backeljau. 1995. Case 2946. Plutoniinae Bollman, 1893 (Arthropoda, Chilopoda) and Plutoniinae Cockerell, 1893 (Mollusca, Gastropoda): proposed removal of homonymy. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature, 52(2):150-152.

_____, & H. Heatwole. 1996. A second Australian record of the centipede Asanada brevicornis Meinert (Scolopendromorpha). Entomologists Monthly Magazine, 132:280.

_____, and S. B. Kiser. 2000. Neotype designation and a diagnostic account for the centipede, Scolopendra gigantea L. 1758, with an account of S. galapagoensis Bollman 1889 (Chilopoda Scolopendromorpha Scolopendridae). Tropical Zoology, 13:159-170.

____, G. B. Edwards, & A. Chagas. Introduction of the centipede Scolopendra morsitans L., 1758, into northeastern Florida, the first authentic North American record, with a review of its global occurrences (Scolopendromorpha: Scolopendridae: Scolopendrinae).  Entomological News, in press.

Zapparoli, M., & R. M. Shelley. 2000. The centipede order Lithobiomorpha in the Hawaiian Islands (Chilopoda). I. The epigean fauna. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers, 63:35-49.