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Concept: Centipede


Centipedes can subdue giant prey by using venom, which is metabolically expensive to synthesize and thus used frugally through efficiently disrupting essential physiological systems. Here, we show that a centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans, ∼3 g) can subdue a mouse (∼45 g) within 30 seconds. We found that this observation is largely due to a peptide toxin in the venom, SsTx, and further established that SsTx blocks KCNQ potassium channels to exert the lethal toxicity. We also demonstrated that a KCNQ opener, retigabine, neutralizes the toxicity of a centipede’s venom. The study indicates that centipedes' venom has evolved to simultaneously disrupt cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, and nervous systems by targeting the broadly distributed KCNQ channels, thus providing a therapeutic strategy for centipede envenomation.

Concepts: Protein, Neuron, Centipede, Arthropod, Nerve, Scolopendra subspinipes, Centipedes, Scolopendra gigantea


Centipedes are among the oldest extant venomous predators on the planet. Armed with a pair of modified, venom-bearing limbs, they are an important group of predatory arthropods and are infamous for their ability to deliver painful stings. Despite this, very little is known about centipede venom and its composition. Advances in analytical tools, however, have recently provided the first detailed insights into the composition and evolution of centipede venoms. This has revealed that centipede venom proteins are highly diverse, with 61 phylogenetically distinct venom protein and peptide families. A number of these have been convergently recruited into the venoms of other animals, providing valuable information on potential underlying causes of the occasionally serious complications arising from human centipede envenomations. However, the majority of venom protein and peptide families bear no resemblance to any characterised protein or peptide family, highlighting the novelty of centipede venoms. This review highlights recent discoveries and summarises the current state of knowledge on the fascinating venom system of centipedes.

Concepts: Protein, Protein structure, Centipede, Arthropod, Toxin, Venom, Scorpion, Spider bite


Retracing the evolutionary history of arthropods has been one of the greatest challenges in biology. During the past decade, phylogenetic analyses of morphological and molecular data have coalesced towards the conclusion that Mandibulata, the most diverse and abundant group of animals, is a distinct clade from Chelicerata, in that its members possess post-oral head appendages specialized for food processing, notably the mandible. The origin of the mandibulate body plan, however, which encompasses myriapods, crustaceans and hexapods, has remained poorly documented. Here we show that Tokummia katalepsis gen. et sp. nov., a large bivalved arthropod from the 508 million-year-old Marble Canyon fossil deposit (Burgess Shale, British Columbia), has unequivocal mandibulate synapomorphies, including mandibles and maxillipeds, as well as characters typically found in crustaceans, such as enditic, subdivided basipods and ring-shaped trunk segments. Tokummia and its closest relative, Branchiocaris (in Protocarididae, emended), also have an anteriormost structure housing a probable bilobed organ, which could support the appendicular origin of the labrum. Protocaridids are retrieved with Canadaspis and Odaraia (in Hymenocarina, emended) as part of an expanded mandibulate clade, refuting the idea that these problematic bivalved taxa, as well as other related forms, are representatives of the basalmost euarthropods. Hymenocarines now illustrate that the subdivision of the basipod and the presence of proximal endites are likely to have been ancestral conditions critical for the evolution of coxal and pre-coxal features in mandibulates. The presence of crustaceomorph traits in the Cambrian larvae of various clades basal to Mandibulata is reinterpreted as evidence for the existence of distinct ontogenetic niches among stem arthropods. Larvae would therefore have constituted an important source of morphological novelty during the Cambrian period, and, through heterochronic processes, may have contributed to the rapid acquisition of crown-group characters and thus to greater evolutionary rates during the early radiation of euarthropods.

Concepts: Insect, Centipede, Arthropod, Crustacean, Trilobite, Opabinia, Cambrian, Burgess Shale


The interrelationships of the four classes of Myriapoda have been an unresolved question in arthropod phylogenetics and an example of conflict between morphology and molecules. Morphology and development provide compelling support for Diplopoda (millipedes) and Pauropoda being closest relatives, and moderate support for Symphyla being more closely related to the diplopod-pauropod group than any of them are to Chilopoda (centipedes). In contrast, several molecular datasets have contradicted the Diplopoda-Pauropoda grouping (named Dignatha), often recovering a Symphyla-Pauropoda group (named Edafopoda). Here we present the first transcriptomic data including a pauropod and both families of symphylans, allowing myriapod interrelationships to be inferred from phylogenomic data from representatives of all main lineages. Phylogenomic analyses consistently recovered Dignatha with strong support. Taxon removal experiments identified outgroup choice as a critical factor affecting myriapod interrelationships. Diversification of millipedes in the Ordovician and centipedes in the Silurian closely approximates fossil evidence whereas the deeper nodes of the myriapod tree date to various depths in the Cambrian-Early Ordovician, roughly coinciding with recent estimates of terrestrialisation in other arthropod lineages, including hexapods and arachnids.

Concepts: Centipede, Arthropod, Cladistics, Hexapoda, Myriapoda, Pauropoda, Symphyla, Myriapods


Myriapods (e.g., centipedes and millipedes) display a simple homonomous body plan relative to other arthropods. All members of the class are terrestrial, but they attained terrestriality independently of insects. Myriapoda is the only arthropod class not represented by a sequenced genome. We present an analysis of the genome of the centipede Strigamia maritima. It retains a compact genome that has undergone less gene loss and shuffling than previously sequenced arthropods, and many orthologues of genes conserved from the bilaterian ancestor that have been lost in insects. Our analysis locates many genes in conserved macro-synteny contexts, and many small-scale examples of gene clustering. We describe several examples where S. maritima shows different solutions from insects to similar problems. The insect olfactory receptor gene family is absent from S. maritima, and olfaction in air is likely effected by expansion of other receptor gene families. For some genes S. maritima has evolved paralogues to generate coding sequence diversity, where insects use alternate splicing. This is most striking for the Dscam gene, which in Drosophila generates more than 100,000 alternate splice forms, but in S. maritima is encoded by over 100 paralogues. We see an intriguing linkage between the absence of any known photosensory proteins in a blind organism and the additional absence of canonical circadian clock genes. The phylogenetic position of myriapods allows us to identify where in arthropod phylogeny several particular molecular mechanisms and traits emerged. For example, we conclude that juvenile hormone signalling evolved with the emergence of the exoskeleton in the arthropods and that RR-1 containing cuticle proteins evolved in the lineage leading to Mandibulata. We also identify when various gene expansions and losses occurred. The genome of S. maritima offers us a unique glimpse into the ancestral arthropod genome, while also displaying many adaptations to its specific life history.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Organism, Genome, Insect, Centipede, Arthropod, Myriapoda


The arthropodium is the key innovation of arthropods. Its various modifications are the outcome of multiple evolutionary transformations, and the foundation of nearly endless functional possibilities. In contrast to hexapods, crustaceans, and even chelicerates, the spectrum of evolutionary transformations of myriapod arthropodia is insufficiently documented and rarely scrutinized. Among Myriapoda, Chilopoda (centipedes) are characterized by their venomous forcipules-evolutionarily transformed walking legs of the first trunk segment. In addition, the posterior end of the centipedes' body, in particular the ultimate legs, exhibits a remarkable morphological heterogeneity. Not participating in locomotion, they hold a vast functional diversity. In many centipede species, elongation and annulation in combination with an augmentation of sensory structures indicates a functional shift towards a sensory appendage. In other species, thickening, widening and reinforcement with a multitude of cuticular protuberances and glandular systems suggests a role in both attack and defense. Moreover, sexual dimorphic characteristics indicate that centipede ultimate legs play a pivotal role in intraspecific communication, mate finding and courtship behavior. We address ambiguous identifications and designations of podomeres in order to point out controversial aspects of homology and homonymy. We provide a broad summary of descriptions, illustrations, ideas and observations published in past 160 years, and propose that studying centipede ultimate legs is not only essential in itself for filling gaps of knowledge in descriptive morphology, but also provides an opportunity to explore diverse pathways of leg transformations within Myriapoda.

Concepts: Centipede, Arthropod, Myriapoda, Pauropoda, Symphyla


Myriapods, including the diverse and familiar centipedes and millipedes, are one of the dominant terrestrial arthropod groups. Although molecular evidence has shown that Myriapoda is monophyletic, its internal phylogeny remains contentious and understudied, especially when compared to those of Chelicerata and Hexapoda. Until now, efforts have focused on taxon sampling (e.g., by including a handful of genes from many species) or on maximizing matrix size (e.g., by including hundreds or thousands of genes in just a few species), but a phylogeny maximizing sampling at both levels remains elusive. In this study, we analyzed forty Illumina transcriptomes representing three of the four myriapod classes (Diplopoda, Chilopoda and Symphyla); twenty-five transcriptomes were newly sequenced to maximize representation at the ordinal level in Diplopoda and at the family level in Chilopoda. Ten supermatrices were constructed to explore the effect of several potential phylogenetic biases (e.g., rate of evolution, heterotachy) at three levels of gene occupancy per taxon (50%, 75% and 90%). Analyses based on maximum likelihood and Bayesian mixture models retrieved monophyly of each myriapod class, and resulted in two alternative phylogenetic positions for Symphyla, as sister group to Diplopoda + Chilopoda, or closer to Diplopoda, the latter hypothesis having been traditionally supported by morphology. Within centipedes, all orders were well supported, but two deep nodes remained in conflict in the different analyses despite dense taxon sampling at the family level. Relationships among centipede orders in all analyses conducted with the most complete matrix (90% occupancy) are at odds not only with the sparser but more gene-rich supermatrices (75% and 50% supermatrices) and with the matrices optimizing phylogenetic informativeness or most conserved genes, but also with previous hypotheses based on morphology, development or other molecular data sets. Our results indicate that a high percentage of ribosomal proteins in the most complete matrices, in conjunction with distance from the root, can act in concert to compromise the estimated relationships within the ingroup. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of the ever more prevalent quest for completeness in phylogenomic studies.

Concepts: Centipede, Arthropod, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Myriapoda, Pauropoda, Symphyla, Myriapods


Centipede venoms have emerged as a rich source of novel bioactive compounds. However, most centipede species are commonly considered too small for venom extraction and transcriptomics is likely to be an attractive way of probing the molecular diversity of these venoms. Examining the venom composition ofScolopendra subspinipes, we test the accuracy of this approach. We compared the proteomically determined venom profile with four common toxin transcriptomic toxin annotation approaches: BLAST search against toxins in UniProt, lineage-specific toxins, or species-specific toxins and comparative expression analyses of venom and non-venom producing tissues. This demonstrated that even toxin annotation based on lineage-specific homology searches is prone to substantial errors compared to a proteomic approach. However, combined comparative transcriptomics and phylogenetic analysis of putative toxin families substantially improves annotation accuracy. Furthermore, comparison of the venom composition ofS. subspinipeswith the closely relatedS. subspinipes mutilansrevealed a surprising lack of overlap. This first insight into the intraspecific venom variability of centipedes contrasts the sequence conservation expected from previous findings that centipede toxins evolve under strong negative selection. Our results highlight the importance of proteomic data in studies of even comparably well-characterized venoms and warrants caution when sourcing venom from centipedes of unknown origin.

Concepts: Protein, Centipede, Toxin, Venom, Apitoxin, Toxins, Scolopendra subspinipes, Centipedes


Given the numerous hypotheses concerning arthropod phylogeny, independent data are needed to supplement knowledge based on traditional external morphology and modern molecular sequence information. One promising approach involves comparisons of the structure and development of the nervous system. Along these lines, the morphology of serotonin-immunoreactive neurons in the ventral nerve cord has been investigated in numerous tetraconate taxa (Crustacea and Hexapoda). It has been shown that these neurons can be identified individually due to their comparably low number, characteristic soma position, and neurite morphology, thus making it possible to establish homologies at the single cell level. Within Chilopoda (centipedes), detailed analyses of major branching patterns of serotonin-immunoreactive neurons are missing, but are crucial for developing meaningful conclusions on the homology of single cells.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Insect, Centipede, Arthropod, Axon, Myriapoda


Recently, myriapods have attracted the attention of engineers because mobile robots that mimic them potentially have the capability of producing highly stable, adaptive, and resilient behaviors. The major challenge here is to develop a control scheme that can coordinate their numerous legs in real time, and an autonomous decentralized control could be the key to solve this problem. Therefore, we focus on real centipedes and aim to design a decentralized control scheme for myriapod robots by drawing inspiration from behavioral experiments on centipede locomotion under unusual conditions. In the behavioral experiments, we observed the response to the removal of a part of the terrain and to amputation of several legs. Further, we determined that the ground reaction force is significant for generating rhythmic leg movements; the motion of each leg is likely affected by a sensory input from its neighboring legs. Thus, we constructed a two-dimensional model wherein a simple local reflexive mechanism was implemented in each leg. We performed simulations by using this model and demonstrated that the myriapod robot could move adaptively to changes in the environment and body properties. Our findings will shed new light on designing adaptive and resilient myriapod robots that can function under various circumstances.

Concepts: Centipede, Arthropod, Reaction, Ground reaction force, Robotics, Myriapoda, Pauropoda, Myriapods