Thursday, February 26, 2009

“Centipede Cinema” the theme for 2009 Insect Fear Film Festival at U of I

“Centipede Cinema” the theme for 2009 Insect Fear Film Festival at U of I

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If you’ve been wondering, “Where can I catch a cheesy film about cave explorers being menaced by giant centipedes?” you’re in luck. This year’s Insect Fear Film Festival, which has been dubbed “Centipede Cinema,” features just such a production.

Suspecting that real-world centipedes harbor no great animosity toward spelunkers, I checked in recently with members of the University of Illinois Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA), which hosts the festival, to find out what does make them tick. EGSA members Michelle Duennes, Rob Mitchell and Scott Shreve collaborated to provide the following account. (Michelle's devotion to science kept her from being able to make it to our recording session, so only Rob M. and Scott are heard in the audio version of this spot.)

[Scott] While they are the theme for this year’s festival, centipedes and millipedes, known collectively as myriapods, are not actually insects. Both insects and myriapods belong to the broader group called arthropods because they have segmented bodies, hard exoskeletons, and jointed legs.

The main difference between insects and myriapods is in the number of their legs. While insects have only six, myriapods have a “myriad” of them—anywhere from 750 to fewer than ten. [Pictured is Orthoporus texicolens a millipede species found in the southwestern U.S. All photos by Rob Mitchell.] Millipedes appear to have two pairs of legs per body segment because their body segments are fused, while centipedes have only one pair of legs per body segment.

Millipedes are much slower than centipedes and feed primarily on leaf litter and detritus. Centipedes are predators that feed on a wide range of small critters, including worms, slugs and insects.

Unlike many insects, myriapods are discreet and tend to keep to themselves. Their long, thin bodies are perfect for worming undetected through soil and leaves. Curious and patient searchers should be able to locate them, however. In the home, they are most likely to be found in damp basements or cellars. If you’re looking for centipedes outside, try turning over rocks or rotting logs, or poking around in the soil while you garden.

Most of the centipedes you’ll find in nature are in the order Geophilomorpha. Members of this group are generally about half an inch long, very thin, and reddish brown in color.

[Rob M.] Most people have probably seen one myriapod in particular, the house centipede. If this name doesn’t ring any bells, just think of an eerily quick daddy longlegs with way too many legs. House centipedes may look scary, but they can’t bite people and they actually eat household pests like roaches and silverfish. If you prefer not to share your house with them, just put them in the garden instead and you’ll be rewarded with fewer insects eating your plants.

In tropical regions there are centipedes that can grow to nearly a foot in length and are capable of inflicting a poisonous bite. For a person, this bite is only about as dangerous as a bee sting, though, and you would have to go to the Amazon rain forest to get it.

This Saturday’s festival will have some live giant centipedes on display, but people will not be allowed to hold them. Giant millipedes, on the other hand, are safe for handling and will be featured in the petting zoo.

The film portion of the festival will kick off with two family-friendly Disney shorts from the 1930s. But parents should be aware that the feature-length films to follow--Centipede! (2004) and especially Centipede Horror (1984)--are much heavier on “fear,” and are not suitable for small children.

[Rob K.] The 2009 Insect Fear Film Festival will take place Feb. 28 in Foellinger Auditorium on the UI campus. Admission is free, and festivities begin at 6 p.m. Details are available at