Do Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) make good pets? This is my story. I received Curly, the name of my centipede when I was fifteen in 1972 from my uncle Manuel. My uncle had snuck the centipede past customs from Peru because he had a centipede of the same species given to him by his father, my grandfather, when he was around the same age as a pet and Manuel felt I was ready for this awesome responsibility. Uncle Manuel said that if you could take care of a giant centipede then children and for that matter any task, was easy after that. I have never had children period but perhaps this is true.
Their first few years with Curly were not easy. I was bitten several times and had to be rushed to the hospital. One of the more unpleasant aspects of being bit by Curly was the fact that your heart goes into cardiac arrest which makes your heart slow down to almost nothing and you feel like your soul is descending into the ground and even the underworld. Fortunately, after the fifth or sixth bite, you develop some immunity to the venom. You still feel like you are going to die but you at least have enough strength to inject the anti-venom serum into your heart without help and in a day or two you are just fine.
Luckily, Curly mellowed with age. After fifteen years of living together, Curly became a lot less aggressive towards me. Curly also got a lot bigger! A normal Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede is about a foot long but after fifteen years Curly was almost two feet long. The Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede lives about five years in the wild and as long as ten years in captivity but if you give them our very secret Incan family recipe of herbs and spices then the centipedes can live a lot longer.
I cannot give the details of the recipe except to say Peru is bordered on one side by the Andes and the other side by the Amazon and because of this many botanical miracles can be found in Peru and nowhere else. Some plants may not have even originated on our planet but may be deliberate hybrids between plants of different planets. Shine an ultra violet lamp and shine that lamp on any jungle or field in the world, except Peru, then nothing will glow in the dark. If you do the same experiment in Peru then you will become aware that some plants seem identical even using current DNA analysis to other plants but are in fact very different!
Actually no one in my family knows how long a centipede can live if they eat our special recipe. Chulito, my uncle Manuel’s pet centipede, died when she was 55 years of age but only because she had wandered out into the street and been run over by a bus. Chulito had grown to an amazing five feet in length and many a dog and cat disappearance, in the neighborhood my uncle lived in, was blamed on Chulito.
My uncle was always adamant that Chulito was innocent. My uncle claimed the stories of Chulito were lies by the communists who resented his Freemason connections. According to my uncle the communists said he had used his connections to stop the communists from erecting a statue of Karl Mark in the Park of the Exposition in Lima.
There was actually a great deal of eye witness testimony that the bus driver swerved in order to hit the centipede and had loudly said after the act that he had done what he had done in order to “matar el monstruo, matador de gatos y perros”, kill the monster, killer of cats and dogs. Both criminal charges and a civil suit brought by my uncle against the bus driver failed because apparently centipedes are not protected under Peruvian law.
The funeral was dignified. As the inheritor of the family tradition of the pet centipede, I of course asked for a leave of absence from my ESL teaching job in Houston and went to Lima to attend the funeral. A coffin generally used for a dog was used. My uncle had wanted to get a metal hermetically sealed steel coffin but my aunt had insisted that a wooden coffin was more than enough for a centipede. The wooden coffin cost around fifty dollars. The steel coffin would have cost almost two thousand dollars!
An informal, low key, pet cemetery on unconsecrated ground exists behind the Convento de San Francisco for Limeños of a certain social standing and Chulito was buried between a parrot that was famous for singing the national anthem of Peru albeit badly according to my aunt and a rooster that had been the fiercest fighter on the cock fighting circuit of Lima in the year of 1937. The owner of the rooster had been an unabashed fascist and had named the rooster Mussolini. The parrot was named José de la Torre Ugarte y Alarcón after the musician who had composed the Peruvian national anthem. As a rule only pets of distinction above and beyond affection are given formal funerals in Lima. I felt sad that Chulito had such a common name compared to her neighbors but I also felt glad she had such illustrious company.
A representative of the Museo Nacional Arqueología, Antropología e Historia Perú was in attendance and made one final appeal before the burial to donate the centipede body to the museum but offered very little in the way of money and instead appealed to my uncle’s sense of national honor. In the year 2,006, a representative of Ripley’s Believe It or Not offered the fantastic sum of 10,000 dollars for the centipede body and the coffin was disinterred.
However, the wooden coffin fell into pieces as it was raised from the ground. Mold, rot and insects had destroyed the coffin and the contents were beyond recognition. My uncle cursed himself for not getting a better coffin for his old friend when he had the chance. The metal coffin would have cost two thousand dollars so an intact centipede body would have yielded a profit of eight thousand dollars. After that day, whenever my aunt tried to make a point forcibly, my uncle would say, “Remember the wooden coffin of Chulito!”
The Chulito remark had the cumulative effect of causing my aunt Zoila to briefly consult a professor of psychology at San Marcos University that had been her classmate years earlier and was a psychoanalyst. The problem is that the poor doctor could never quite understand that the centipede was an actual centipede rather than some opaque way of referring to my uncle’s penis. This led to my aunts often said observation that some of the stupidest people in the world are some of the most educated people in the world. Later my aunt hopelessly tried to create some sort of theory that perhaps education in some ways caused stupidity. However, my aunt was a very busy woman and always focused on keeping the house clean and the meals going since she was the nucleus of our extended family and theory did not feed children so her theory never got very far except in my own mind.
I later received a doctorate and read Malinowski. I ultimately came to the conclusion that what is magic (nonsense that has societal sanction and passes for knowledge) and what is science (useful knowledge) is often known in hindsight. I inherited the centipede from my uncle. I inherited a suspicion of over-education from my aunt. In both cases, I inherited a suspicion of theory. I also came to the conclusion that just saying theory was useless was also useless. Men form theories and that’s that. I liked what Dewey had to say about theory. You should reject particular theories but not the enterprise of theory building per se. I have a theory of theories and its pragmatism. You build new theories based on new evidence.
This murder/accident (?) that involved Chulito led to an ongoing feud between our family and the Ramdenk family of the bus driver. The Ramdenks immigrated to Peru from Romania in the 1880’s and have always been in the business of group transport. They started in the coach trade and moved into the bus trade later. If you rode a bus in Lima in the last hundred years then your bus driver was probably some relative or crony of the Ramdenks. There is an unusual strain of both albinism and dwarfism in Ramdenk gene pool so you are more likely to have an albino dwarf as your bus driver in Lima than in any other country in the world which I think adds to the local charm of Lima.
One Ramdenk did not want to be a bus driver and opened a Romanian restaurant in Lima in the 1960’s. The restaurant failed a few years later due to a lack of interest in Romanian food in Lima. This particular Ramdenk committed suicide by eating gogoşi, a type of Romanian doughnut, mixed with opium. Generally, this form of suicide was reserved for Romanian aristocracy. This upstart form of suicide confirmed the suspicion among the Ramdenks that the fellow thought he was better than the family. So the Romanian restaurateur became a cautionary tale to other Ramdenks who wanted to be more than bus drivers. They say that if you walk in the area of the Hospital Almenara, where the Romanian restaurateur ultimately died, in Lima during a full moon then you will occasionally see an opiated albino ghost eating a donut muttering in Romanian.
The upshot of the feud is that members of my family in Lima do not ride on buses and walk much more than other Peruvians of their station. The local truism is that because of all this walking, members of my family have enormous muscular legs and in fact the women in my family are known throughout Lima for having exceptionally shapely legs so perhaps something good did come out of the death of poor Chulito!
But I digress, as I stated previously, after about 15 years the Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede starts to mellow and stops trying to kill you. My own explanation is that the brain of the centipede gets bigger and bigger brains mean smarter centipedes. The centipede starts to realize you are a consistent source of food and in turn tries to protect you rather than try to kill you! This is great on the few occasions a dog tries to bite you since a two foot centipede can take down even a German Sheppard with a single bite in under 30 seconds but unfortunately the Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede will attack any girl that tries to touch you much less kiss you. This means that when you have girlfriends over then you need to make sure your centipede is safely locked up and this is not easy to do.
A two foot centipede will break the glass of most normal terrariums. The two foot centipede will just ram the same area of the terrarium again and again. The centipede prefers using a pebble but will use its own head if pebbles are not available. This process may take weeks but centipedes are stubborn creatures. I suppose learning how to use all those legs early on makes them stubborn.
What you really need is a terrarium made of toughened glass. You will need to have this terrarium custom made since no one manufactures terrariums made of toughed glass normally. Cages would be strong enough but a centipede can easily slip out of cages that a snake of the same size could not! I would also suggest not letting your girlfriend, to be, know about your giant centipede until the relationship has matured. Many women do not want to spend the night in an apartment that also houses a two foot centipede. Fast forward!
Well its 2013 and Curly is 41! Curly is almost three feet long and is still growing! Curly has been costly financially. The costs include hospital visits due to bites, law suits related to missing cats and dogs, having to move constantly because of harassment from neighbors about Curly and the specialized terrariums.
Curly has also been costly in terms of relationships because I have never been lucky enough to find a woman that will accept a giant centipede as part of the romantic package. I have tried again and again to make sure Curly stays in the terrarium but somehow Curly knows when there is a woman in the house and miraculously gets out of the best built terrarium and the woman invariably gets bit.
I now keep anti-venom in the fridge and am quite expert in injecting the anti-venom into the heart directly which means the lady in question is totally safe and will recover in a day or two but these incidents just about almost always lead to a break up and/or a law suit. However, when Curly is cold then Curly will wrap himself around my neck and tickle my ears with his antennae affectionately and that’s when I know that I have made the right decision to keep Curly as a pet despite the costs! I look into his big brown compound eyes and I see love! Curly loves me and I love Curly and it’s just that simple.
So in conclusion, I think a Peruvian giant yellow-leg centipede can make a great pet!