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Facts about Centipedes, the 'Hundred Leggers' - One of the Oldest Terrestrial Animals

Updated on March 14, 2013
In fact, centipedes are the only arthropods that have poison claws for subduing prey
In fact, centipedes are the only arthropods that have poison claws for subduing prey
Centipede's jaws and antennas
Centipede's jaws and antennas
The head of centipede
The head of centipede
Centipede protecting its eggs
Centipede protecting its eggs

The name ‘centipede’ means hundred feet. But in fact, it is not necessarily that this ‘hundred leggers’ must have hundred legs. The amount of legs it has will depend on the species. Centipedes usually have between 30 – 350 legs.

It is estimated that there are 8,000 species of centipedes on earth but only about 3,000 species have been described till date. Centipedes can be found worldwide, they have also been spotted inside the Arctic Circle.

Centipedes live a long time if compared to other arthropods. Some of them can live up to six years.

Since centipedes have more than six legs, they are not considered as an insect. Centipedes are part of the arthropod family (and this includes insects) and are in the myriapod class. They are also known to be the only arthropods that have ‘poison claws’ for subduing prey. The venom of centipede is not found to be fatal for humans (unless the person is allergic) but it can cause pain.

Centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs. They have one pair of legs per body segment (and this is one of the easiest way to differentiate millipedes and centipedes). The legs of their first segment are not for walking, but are modified in order to form venomous fangs.

All centipedes are predators. These fast-moving animals are also nocturnal. Being carnivorous animal, centipedes mainly prey on insects, earthworms, spiders and other small invertebrates. Larger species have been known to prey on small reptiles and mammals. Entomologists suspect that earthworms (along with spiders) make up the majority of a centipede's diet. Some centipedes can eat prey that are as big as themselves. The centipede will often wrap itself around the prey and wait for its venom to take effect before consuming the meal.

Each pair of centipede’s legs is longer than the pair in front of it to prevent the critter from stepping on its legs. As they become adults, centipedes grow a complete set of legs and extra segments. However, certain centipedes are born complete.

Centipedes can also regenerate lost legs. If there is a centipede found with a few legs that are shorter than the others, these legs are usually in the process of recovering from a predator attack.

Centipedes favour damp environments, therefore they are rarely found in the hot and dry desert regions. You can usually find them in moist habitats, such as under rocks, logs, leaf litter and occasionally in burrows in the ground or rotting wood. Inside buildings and houses, they usually hide in damp areas around closets, basements, bathrooms and other sites typically infested by pests.

Although the majority of centipedes are reddish-brown, yellow or brown, they can also come in a variety of colors such as blue, bright orange and red.

All centipedes have very poor eyesight, this is why they usually track the prey through the use of touch. The heads of centipedes have a pair of long antennae (which can be used to detect their prey), two elongated mandibles and four maxillae.

The largest centipede known is Scolopendra gigantea, or also known as Amazonian giant centipede. Some centipedes can travel up to 20 inches per second. This is faster than many arthropods.

The female centipedes can lay around 60 eggs and bury them in the soil. Certain species can even nurse their own eggs and baby centipedes but not all.

Birds, frogs, toads and small mammals such as mice and shrews are the most common predators of the centipede. Centipedes can try to protect and defend themselves by producing a smelly and sticky substance. These creatures can also pinch the prey using their hind legs.

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