New amphibious centipede species named after local dragon god discovered

A new species of large, tropical, amphibious centipede has been discovered in Okinawa and Taiwan – only the third creature of its kind to be identified anywhere in the world.

The centipede, which measured 20cm in length and is nearly 2cm wide, is also the first new centipede to be identified in Japan for 143 years, according to Tokyo Metropolitan University.

News first reached researchers of an unidentified centipede attacking fresh water prawns in the forests of the biodiverse Ryukyu Archipelago area.

Sho Tsukamoto, of Tokyo Metropolitan University, then led a team including Professor Satoshi Shimano of Hosei University to set out and find the centipede in its stream-side habitat and determine exactly what the predator was.

However, they were not expecting to discover an entirely new species, especially one that was the largest centipede species in Japan and Taiwan.

The amphibious centipede has been named Scolopendra alcyona Tsukamoto and Shimano after the Greek mythological figure Alcyone, who was transformed into a kingfisher by Zeus as a punishment for referring to herself as Zeus’s wife, Hera.

Its Japanese name, ryujin-ômukade, also has a mythological origin, linked to the region in which it was found.

According to local myth, a dragon god, or ryujin, was in pain due to a centipede which had entered its ear. After seeing a chicken guzzle down a centipede, the dragon god came to fear both centipedes and chickens.

In the past, the people of Ryukyu painted chickens on their boats, and had centipede flags as a way to ward off the dragon gods at sea.

Researchers said the fact this centipede went so long undiscovered was proof that so much of the Ryukyu Archipelago is unexplored and needs preserving.

They also believe that the centipede is endangered and the team hope to investigate and monitor the predator more, while preserving their stream-side habitat.


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