© Stuart M Bennett 2000
Scutigerella immaculata

When turning the compost heap in the garden or working in the greenhouse, you may well come across a pale centipede-like creature about 7 mm long. Although it is often called the garden centipede, this little animal is not a centipede at all. It belongs to another group of animals known as the "Symphylans". Examination with a glass will reveal that it has 12 pairs of legs, which are rather short, and a pair of fairly long antennae. Symphylans are very active creatures, but they are, nevertheless, basically vegetarians. They feed mainly on dead and decaying plant material, they will however readily attack young plant seedlings. There are several species in Britain, living in various kinds of soil and leaf litter, the commonest of which is shown above. Its liking for young seedlings make it a serious greenhouse pest and if there is a problem it will probably be likely that the only cure will be insecticide of fumigant (gas). Although not closely related to the centipedes, the symphylans were once included with them in the old group known as Myriapoda. It is thought that the insects may have evolved from some sort of symphylan ancestor aeons ago.

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