The Garden Centipede

The Garden Centipede

The most common type of Chilipoda (the class of invertebrates we call centipedes) is the Garden Centipede Lithobius forficatus. They are, in fact, the most common centipede in our country. Seldom more than 2 inches long (50 mm) these little arthropods are often found under logs, leaves, or rocks throughout forests and backyards. Our moist Northwest climate does not bother the Garden Centipede at all as it prowls about its subterranean world hunting other small invertebrates. Like all centipedes they have venomous fangs called forcipules which are actually legs, a adaptation unique to centipedes. Thanks to my new tripod I was able to get several nice macrophotography shots that display the various parts of centipede anatomy. The first picture gives an idea of the relative size of the centipede, the second shows the body plates with one pair of legs per segment as opposed to millipedes which have two. Photo number three is a head shot. Note the antenna and dark eyes. The eyes are simple sensors of darkness or light. Centipede antenna, however, are very sensitive physical and biochemical detectors. They are the animal’s prey detector and the primary instrument by which the centipede senses its environment. The fangs are the rounded appendages at the side of the head. The last photo (in which the centipede decided to prop itself up on a worm) shows the extended rear legs. These legs are not used for walking. In some species they are used to grasp and hold prey.

Northwest Color

Sure, we’re known as the Evergreen State. And with good reason; we’ve got gobs of green over here pretty much year round near the coast. But we can boast our own contribution to the world of fall color too. Maple trees and our year round resident Anna’s hummingbird help to brighten things up.

It’s Salamander Season!

The rains have returned and with it one of my favorite species of wildlife – salamanders. We are blessed with many of the little guys here in the Northwest. Here’s a few of the most common. They’ll probably even turn up in your backyard.

Harbor Seal Lazy Day

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Harbor Seal life is a good one – provided you’re not being chased by an Orca.

Puget Sound Sea Snakes?

GS4 on SeaRock GS3 on SeaRock

Well, not in the true scientific sense of the term. But we do have some unique garter snakes along our rocky beaches. As you see in the photos above these serpents dwell among the rocks and grass near the shore and readily plunge into the very cold salt water of the Sound. These ones were discovered just south of the Narrows bridge. I suspect they dine on small shore creatures during low tides.

Incredible Corvids

We are blessed in the Northwest with some outstanding examples of birds in the corvid family.  Highly intelligent (they are among the most intelligent of all bird species) aggressive, and vociferous, you can’t help buy notice these avians. And corvids can always be depended on to put on a show. It might a glittering family of magpies, a crow catching a snake, ravens tying to wake up a brown bear, or a stellar jay annoying other birds at the feeder. These guys always steal the avian show. Stellar jays, like other blue birds, are not really blue, of course. That beautiful hue is actually a structural color – a trick of sunlight reflecting off the molecular composition of the feather’s cellular structure and keratin.


Lichens are actually fascinating organisms. Able to grow in the harshest environments on earth they are a source of food and nesting material for many animals, and have been used as food and medicine by humans for many years. They can live a long time, too. According to the National Audubon Society specimens 4,000 years old have been found. Here’s a few of our common Northwest species:

Lichens have been in the news lately. No they’ve not committed any acts of violence or terror but they have revealed an anatomical surprise – they are composed of two different fungal type and algae. Now that might not cause you to lay awake tonight but for lichen likers like myself it is a pretty big deal. I was taught, as were many biological student generations before me, that a lichen is composed of a fungi and an algae. The fungal part of the organism surrounds the algae, provides an anchor to the substrate, and absorption of water and necessary nutrients. Cyanobacteria, known as “blue-green algae” convert energy from the sun via photosynthesis. All this has been known for many years. For about 150 or so of those years, however, it was thought that just one fungal species existed in this symbiotic relationship – ascomycete. Now thanks to the persistence of a lifelong lichen lover named Toby Spribille, we know that there are actually two kinds of fungus – an ascomycete and a basidiomycete. Read the story here:

How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology

What having lived in a trailer park has anything to do with this I do not know. I lived in one for quite a while myself. But HOOAH for ya, Toby.

Dedicated to the wildlife of the NW United States – and wildlife worldwide.