"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.
(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.