Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Ninety-nine

24 June 2020 | Posted in Michael Blencowe
Corona Wildlife Diary: Day Ninety-nine

Day Ninety-nine

"What goes 99-bonk?"

Back in 1980 the Puffin ‘Crack-A-Joke-Book’ was a publishing phenomenon at my primary school. Every kid clutched a copy and tiny Tarbucks and miniature McIntyres prowled the playground looking for an audience.


Now I like a laugh as much as the next child but I took umbrage with one one-liner.

Because as a bug lover I knew one thing for certain. A centipede with a wooden leg does not go "99-bonk". 

All centipedes have odd numbers of pairs of legs. In Britain they can have 15 to 101 pairs – but never 50. 

So the joke should have been ‘What goes between 29-bonk and 201-bonk?”

My pedantic antics also ruined such films as “The Land That Time Forgot” and “1,000,000 years B.C” during which I spoiled other children's enjoyment of the film by continually pointed out that humans and dinosaurs had never actually co-existed. My exasperation was remedied slightly by Raquel Welch’s dinosaur-skin bikini.


If you really want to see humans and prehistoric monsters interacting you should have watched me yesterday as I was out exploring the garden compost bin. Lurking there in the dark was a creature more fearsome than any Tyrannosaurus. In fact by the time dinosaurs ruled the earth the centipedes had already been sitting on the throne for 300 million years.

Centipedes were among the first animals that crawled upon the land. Compare the flattened body structure of those fossils with today’s back garden beasts and they really haven’t changed a bit. And it’s this ‘If it ain't broke don’t fix it’ approach that has helped centipedes remain one of our planet’s most successful carnivores for nigh on 430 million years.

Here's the centipede I found in the compost bin. I looked at him under the microscope for a bit before putting him back in the dark. Wow, if I can paraphrase Z.Z. Top "It's got legs and it knows how to use them" and look how it uses its antennae to feel around the petri dish. Not too sure of the species - I'll need to get a book about centipedes to read now that I have some time off.

There are 57 different centipede species in the UK. One of the more commonly encountered species is the 3cm chestnut brown Lithobius forficatus. It has the same number of legs as a rugby team (15 pairs) and will use the same combined brute force to tackle any opponent. Their chorus line of legs give centipedes incredible speed and manoeuvrability - they can even run backwards. For prey that can’t outrun them it’s the front pair of legs you have to look out for – the forcipules. These legs have been weaponised; converted into impressive fangs which inject paralysing poison into their prey.


Lithobius forficatus (Photo by Aiwok)

This creature, with so many legs, comes with one big Achilles heel. Unlike other leaf litter lovers, centipedes lack a waxy covering and can dry out very easily. This design oversight has banished them to a nocturnal lifestyle in our dankest habitats.

For some folk centipedes are surely the creepiest of crawlies but they play an important role as garden predators controlling plant pests. Some species even show surprising maternal affection to their offspring.

Cent Derek

(Photo by Derek Middleton)

Maybe I shouldn't stop tomorrow. Maybe I should keep on doing this diary? If I can keep on going until 13 March 2023 (Day 999)  I could explaining why millipedes don’t go 999-bonk.

The ice cream van has just turned up in the cul-de-sac again so I've treated myself to a 99.


Anyway, I don't know any good centipede songs. So here's a 99 song, the great Ann Peebles with 99lbs. (here) - which is probably the amount of weight I've put on by staying at home for 14 weeks eating ice cream.


  • Gordon McGoochan:

    24 Jun 2020 08:55:00

    Another cracker, I’ll certainly miss my daily fix of these blogs.

  • Ginny-Vic:

    24 Jun 2020 09:35:00

    Ann Peebles is a jam! I might have to buy myself some sort of book to read to replace the giant wildlife reading void that will occur on Friday. Not to mention musical inspiration. I’m too scared to look in my compost bin but I hope I have a few centipedes in there. Thank you for the diaries. I hope you are really proud of yourself for such a creative idea that has bought joy to so many. And bird race t-shirts! Enjoy your ice cream!

  • Mary:

    24 Jun 2020 10:17:00

    Michael’s offered to keep going folks, let’s take him up on that, much too good an offer to let slip. Thank you Michael yes please!! :)

    Michael: Haha - I think I may have been a bit delirious when I promised another 900 of these Mary. Must be the heat.
  • Mary:

    24 Jun 2020 10:43:00

    Don’t worry Michael I was only joking… we know you need a break.
    I can really echo what was said yesterday : “Thank you for these witty, informative, funny and beautiful diaries. Every cloud has a silver lining and you have provided one in our lockdown. I love them.”

  • Susan (Georgies auntie):

    24 Jun 2020 11:37:00

    Thanks Michael, another fantastic diary day, I always thought centipedes were just centipedes, I had no idea there were so many different ones! I have read and thoroughly enjoyed every one of your blogs , I’ve laughed and cried (but only with laughter) learned so much, and discovered some great music as well. I will miss them greatly, thank you sincerely for all your hard work. Enjoy your well deserved rest.

  • Sue C:

    24 Jun 2020 12:19:00

    I’m really going to miss your diary Michael, it has been wonderfully uplifting to read, and to see how much it means to others in the comments section as well, I feel we have all been in this together. Thank you so much for inspiring us and keeping us entertained, enjoy your well-earned break.

  • Helen:

    24 Jun 2020 12:51:00

    Just to echo what everyone else has said, this has been wonderful! I’ve read this religiously every day and many a fact has been learnt and a chuckle has been had! Thanks very very much indeed.

  • Davina:

    24 Jun 2020 16:42:00

    I’ve enjoyed every one of your posts, laughed out loud at many and always felt better when I finished reading them than when I started. Thank you so much.

  • Polly Robinson:

    24 Jun 2020 23:10:00

    Thank you so much Michael. Your blog has cheered every day of lockdown – so beautifully written and funny and informative and links to fab music – honestly the highlight of my day. Well done, thank you so much, and have a great rest of this extraordinary summer.

  • Judith A:

    29 Jun 2020 10:50:00

    Sadly only came across your diaries at the end and I have clearly misssed a treat! Today’s subject reminded me of the following poem my mother used to quote:

    A centipede was happy – quite!
    Until a toad in fun
    Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
    Which threw her mind in such a pitch,
    She laid bewildered in the ditch
    Considering how to run.

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