There are few things that people who hate bugs fear more than centipedes. The glittering exoskeletons, the snaking, writhing bodies and the many skittering legs are enough to make some people shriek or faint with fear. Yet for all of the already scary, very large known species of centipede there are many alleged types that go far beyond the size and horror level of our current comprehension of these intimidating, skin-crawling beasties. These are the truly monstrous examples of mysterious cryptid centipedes that by all accounts take the wow and creep factor way off the charts; snaking, many-legged monstrosities that horrify as much as they elude classification. Here we will delve into the world of currently undiscovered giant mystery centipedes. I do hope no one was planning on sleeping easy tonight.
One of the most bizarre and indeed frightening examples of a giant cryptid centipede is said to lurk not on land, but it the warm seas of South East Asia, particularly off the coast of Vietnam. These are the hunting grounds of what is commonly called the Con Rit, which is an enormous creature said to measure up to 50 feet or more, with a segmented, armored body and a multitude of legs making it similar in appearance to a millipede or centipede, as well as numerous fins lining its sides and by some accounts spikes or spines. Indeed, the name Con Rit simply means “millipede” in Vietnamese. In most descriptions the Con Rit is described as having a brownish coloring on top with a yellow underbelly, and many have claimed it has filament like structures protruding from each body segment. Some reports have also made mention of a powerful, lobster-like tail.
The Vietnamese have apparently long spoke of the Con Rit in legend and folklore, where it was known mostly as a powerful water dragon and mentioned in such tomes as the Vietnamese book of myths called the Chich-Quai. However, this bizarre monster first lurched into more widespread awareness in the 19th century, when in 1883 the carcass of one of the creatures was allegedly found washed ashore upon a secluded beach at a place called Hongay, which lies along Along Bay, Vietnam. The witness who discovered the body, a Tran Van Con, claimed that the immense, decomposing beast was minus its head, measured around 60 feet in length, 3 feet wide, and was composed of a series of insectoid, armored plates measuring around 2 feet long each. From each segment sprouted clawed legs described as two feet long, which apparently rang “like sheet metal” when struck. Upon the terminal segments were said to be two menacing spines which pointed backwards. The carcass was allegedly examined before being towed out to sea and discarded after it began to rot and emit a foul, hideous stench that blanketed the area.
There were numerous sightings of this strange beast in the region throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, and in 1920 the French doctor Armand Krempf, who was also the founder and director of the Oceanographic and Fisheries Service of Indochina, launched an investigation into the accounts of the Con Rit. During his investigation, he personally interviewed the man who had found the carcass in 1883, Tran Van Con, who vividly remembered the incident that had occurred decades before. Krempf would go on to write of the encounter in an article entitled Carcass on coast of Annam, 1883, and considered it to be a genuine mysterious zoological phenomenon worthy of further study.
As bizarre as the Con Rit may seem, there have been numerous other sightings of similarly armor plated, multi-finned sea monsters throughout the world, with one of the earliest accounts being from the 16th century, by a Guillaume Rondelet, who is often called the “Father of Ichthyology.” In his seminal work L’Histoire entiere des poisons, Rondelet told of the many sightings that had occurred in the Indies of what he called “cetacean centipedes,” descried as segmented beasts having many legs and a multitude of oar-like fins along the body. Rondelet also wrote that such creatures had been seen and even found washed up on shore as far back as 200 A.D., when the creator was referred to as the “great Sea Centipede” by the naturalist Aelian in his tome On the Nature of Animals.
Such reports over the centuries became widespread to the point that famed cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans created a whole classification for this type of sea serpent in his masterpiece In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (1968), which he called the “many-finned,” and were categorized as having many lateral fins, spines, and bony jointed armored dermal plates or thick, rough scales that are segmented. Heuvelmans believed creatures such as the Con Rit to be perhaps some form of prehistoric whale with bony dermal plates, and even created a name for them, Cetioscolopendra aeliani, or Aelian’s cetacean centipede. He also at one point entertained the idea that they could represent a relic population of prehistoric sea scorpions, which were a group of large, formidable aquatic arthropods measuring up to 10 feet long that existed around 500–250 million years ago.
There have been a variety of other theories as to what could lie at the heart of reports of giant sea centipedes. The imminent cryptozoologist Karl Shuker has argued that they could be some gigantic type of undiscovered crustacean, such as a giant isopod, far larger than any currently known to exist. Another idea that has been proposed by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman is that rather than a literal arthropod of some sort, these “giant sea centipedes” could be some other type of animal like a whale, which is merely being perceived and misidentified as being a segmented, armored monstrosity. Coleman says that this misidentification could be due to the presence of thick mats of barnacles, some dermal condition not present in the fossil record, or that what people describe as “plates” are simply just misidentified fins. Yet another idea is that sightings of these creatures are misidentifications of rarely seen, unusual looking fish such as the oarfish; a spectral, silvery serpent-like fish that can get up to 20 feet long and would certainly be a startling sight for someone not expecting to see one. Considering the lack of modern reports of these strange creatures it is quite possible we may never know.
Moving away from the sea and into the depths of the world’s deepest jungles, we come to the Amazon rainforest. Here travelers have long come back from the wild frontiers of the rain forests with tales of horrifying centipedes measuring up to 5 feet long slithering through the underbrush. These creatures are said to have venom that can quickly kill a full grown man, and is so powerful as to completely melt and dissolve flesh. Some reports have even made mention of the creatures projecting their potent poison over great distances. While no evidence has ever been found of such large living centipedes in South America, native Amazonian tribes have at times claimed to have killed such intimidating beasts.
While these reports may seem exaggerated, they are not too far along the terror scale from a very real species of centipede native to these jungles. The Amazonian giant centipede (Scolopendra gigantean) can grow to an average length of 10 to 12 inches, with the largest recorded specimen measuring a truly monstrous 18 inches long. These startlingly enormous centipedes scurry about feeding on just about anything smaller than themselves, including birds, frogs, lizards, rodents, and the occasional bat, and have the unsettling ability to hang from trees or cave ceilings to snatch birds or bats from mid-air. Additionally, their bite is so painful that it has been likened to being shot by a gun. Could the giant mystery centipedes be an undiscovered relative of the Amazonian giant centipede, outsized specimens of the known species, or even a relic population of an extinct species such as Euphoberia, a 40-inch long centipede that walked the earth 35 million years ago? It remains to be seen.
Another account of massive cryptid centipede was first mentioned in an article in the August 2009 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine, in which naturalist Jeremy Holden describes a truly strange and terrifying creature. While exploring in the remote jungles of Sumatra, Holden visited an isolated village in the western part of the country, where the locals told him of a type of centipede which was said to be around 12 inches in length, with a thick body green in color, and a wicked, nearly unbearably painful bite. This mysterious centipede, which they called the Upah, was said to lurk in trees and have the unsettling ability to let out a high pitched shriek or mewl that was described as sounding like that of a cat.
These stories of a shrieking or yowling giant centipede were not taken very seriously by Holden, but he would soon have a firsthand encounter with one. A few weeks after first hearing of these strange creatures, Holden claimed that he had been walking along a jungle trail with some guides when he heard a sudden, booming cat-like scream pierce down from the trees above, which was followed by a strange rattling sound. The guides confirmed that this was indeed the cry of an Upah, but even after scanning the trees with binoculars Holden was unable to locate the elusive centipede itself.
On another occasion, Holden was yet again traversing the thick jungle when he heard an unidentifiable cry from the canopy once again, which sounded remarkably similar to the one he had heard before. However, one of Holden’s companions on this particular excursion was an avid birdwatcher, and identified the noise as coming from a rare species of bird called the Malaysian honeyguide (Indicator archipelagicus), which is well known for its distinctive, cat-like call and for being easier to hear than to see. Does this mean that the local villagers were misidentifying the call of this elusive bird as something else, or is the Upah a genuine ethno-known cryptid giant centipede? No one knows.
Moving over to North America we make another addition to our list of creepy crawlies. The Ozark Mountains, in particular the areas of Gainesville, Bradleyville, Stone County, and Taney County, in Missouri, and Marion County, in Arkansas, have been claimed to be the lair of some kind of mysterious giant centipede since at least the mid-19th century. Described as being up to 18 inches in length, the Ozark Giant Centipede was frequently reported from the region at the time by frightened locals and visitors alike, who sometimes described the creature’s odd habit of wrapping its massive body around its young. In one case, in 1860 a specimen measuring 18 inches long was allegedly captured at Jimmie’s Creek in Marion County, Arkansas, and its body preserved in alcohol and displayed at a drugstore, but the specimen was lost during the Civil War.
There are even larger mystery centipedes reported from the Ozarks from time to time. In one report, an unidentified bow hunter told a harrowing tale. The witness claimed that while out hunting at a small, private wood in Sebastian County, Arkansas, he went along a trail towards a rocky ridge to take cover and lie in wait for his quarry. As he approached the ridge, he claimed to have seen movement around 40 feet away from his position, and he soon realized that it was a wounded deer that appeared to be writhing about on the ground. On closer inspection, something about the odd scene didn’t sit right with the hunter, as the deer’s legs and head were not moving, and it seemed to be awkwardly sliding along the ground away from him.
The slightly unnerved hunter decided to move out into the woods to move around to get a better angle to see what was going on, and that was when he received a chilling shock. It seemed at first that the deer was being dragged along by a very large snake, but as the hunter warily moved closer he claimed he noticed that it was something far weirder and more horrific than a snake. It was what appeared to be a massive centipede of some sort. It was described as dark colored, around 10 feet long, with hundreds of skittering legs and armored segments all down its length, and it was determinedly pulling the deer carcass along the forest floor by its hindquarters and tail with sidewinding movements of its thick, powerful body.
The horrified hunter followed the creature down the ridge, entranced by the hideous sight, until it came to a rock pile which it struggled to drag the deer over. That was when the hunter claimed that the giant centipede let go of the deer carcass and reared up to look in his direction. The startled hunter described being watched by its piercing eyes and mentioned that if he had had a gun he might have fired, but was unsure of whether an arrow would merely antagonize it. Instead of attacking the monstrosity, he slowly backed away and then quickly walked out of the vicinity, never to return to that particular wood to hunt.
It is difficult to ascertain just what the giant Ozark centipedes could be. The largest extant species of centipede in North America is the 8-inch long, yellow and orange banded Giant desert centipede (Scolopendra heros), but this species dwells in Mexico and the southern United States, far from the Ozarks, and nowhere near the sizes reported from there. There are surely truly gigantic species of known centipedes in the world, such as the Galapagos centipede, or Darwin’s Goliath centipede (Scolopendra galapagoensis) which routinely reaches lengths of up to 17 inches long, and the previously mentioned Amazonian giant centipede, among others, but there is currently nothing like this known in North America. Could there be an even larger undiscovered North American species of centipede lurking in the Ozarks?
For the story of a 10-foot long, deer-killing centipede we have even more problems. The only known creature that even comes close in size would be a genus of millipede arthropods known from the North American fossil record, known as the Arthropleura. This genus, which lived 340 to 280 million years ago, was composed of species of a wide range of sizes, ranging from an already disturbing 1 foot long all the way up to a truly intimidating 8.5 feet long, which are thought to be the largest terrestrial arthropods that ever lived. The problem is that even if these creatures have managed to survive and remain undetected under our noses for millions of years, Arthropleura are now thought to have been herbivorous rather than predatory, meaning one would not be eating a deer. There is also the fact that these arthropods were able to get so large because of the greater partial pressure of the atmosphere at the time. It is unlikely a modern day terrestrial could physiologically reach such sizes. One is inclined to feel that the story of the deer-eating centipede is most likely just a liberally exaggerated tall tale.
Centipedes are without a doubt one of the creatures most able to send a chill along the spine. They combine all of the worst features of a snake and an insect, combining to create a slithering coil of scintillating legs and armored segments. We already have quite enough truly enormous specimens of known centipede species, but is there something else lurking out there as well? Are there centipedes slithering out in the wilds right now that are far larger than any known to currently exist? Whatever the answer to that may be, one hopes that one of these beasts does not scurry out of the underbrush too close. These are creatures that many may almost prefer to remain undiscovered, if they exist at all. Out there in the wilds of the world might roam gigantic giant centipedes that serve to scamper through dark forests, fuel our nightmares, and keep us awake at night. Sweet dreams.