Fascinating Facts About Centipedes

Fascinating Facts About Centipedes

Does a centipede really have 100 legs?

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Centipedes («100 feet» in Latin) are arthropods—members of an invertebrate class that includes insects, spiders, and crustaceans. All centipedes belong to the class Chilopoda, which includes about 3,300 different species. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, and they have the greatest diversity in shape and configuration in warm and tropical environments. Most centipedes are adapted to burrowing and live in soil or leaf litter, under the bark of trees, or beneath stones.

Centipede bodies are made up of six head segments (three of which are mouthparts), a pair of poisonous maxillipeds («foot jaws»), a variously numbered series of truck-bearing leg segments, and two genital segments. Their heads have two antennae and a varying number of paired compound eyes (called ocelli), though some cave-dwelling species are blind.

Each legged segment is made up of an upper and lower shield covered by a cuticle and separated from the next segment by a flexible membrane. Centipedes periodically shed their cuticles, which allows them to grow. Their body length ranges from 4 to 300 millimeters (0.16–12 inches), with most species measuring between 10 and 100 millimeters (0.4–4 inches).

Beyond these standard centipede characteristics, there are some facts that are more interesting or even surprising. Here are seven of them.

Centipedes Never Have 100 Legs

Though their common name means «100 feet,» centipedes can have significantly more or less than 100 legs—but never 100 exactly. Depending on the species, a centipede can have as few as 15 pairs of legs or as many as 191 pairs. However, regardless of the species, centipedes always have an odd number of leg pairs. Therefore, they never have exactly 100 legs.

The Number of a Centipede’s Legs Can Change Throughout Its Life

Should a centipede find itself in the grip of a bird or other predator, it can often escape by sacrificing a few legs. The bird is left with a beak full of legs, and the clever centipede makes a fast escape on those that remain. Since centipedes continue to molt as adults, they can usually repair the damage by simply regenerating legs. If you find a centipede with a few legs that are shorter than the others, it is likely in the process of recovering from a predator attack.

Though many centipedes hatch from their eggs with a full complement of leg pairs, certain kinds of Chilopods grow more throughout their lives. For example, stone centipedes (order Lithobiomorpha) and house centipedes (order Scutigeromorpha) start out with as few as 14 legs but add pairs with each successive molt until they reach adulthood. The common house centipede can live as long as five to six years, so that’s a lot of legs.

Centipedes Are Carnivorous Hunters

Though some occasionally scavenge a meal, centipedes are primarily hunters. Smaller centipedes catch other invertebrates, including insects, mollusks, annelids, and even other centipedes. The larger tropical species can consume frogs and even small birds. To accomplish this, the centipede usually wraps itself around the prey and waits for the venom to take effect before consuming its meal.

Where does this venom come from? A centipede’s first set of legs are venomous fangs, which they use to inject paralyzing venom into prey. These special appendages are known as forcipules and are unique to centipedes. Additionally, large poison claws partially cover the mouthparts of centipedes and form part of the feeding apparatus.

People Keep Centipedes as Pets

It’s surprising but true. There are even centipede breeders, though most centipedes sold in the pet trade are wild-caught. The most common centipedes sold for pets and zoological displays come from the Scolopendra genus.

Pet centipedes are kept in terrariums with a large surface area—a minimum of 60 square centimeters (24 inches) for larger species. They require a built substrate of soil and coconut fiber for burrowing, and they can be fed pre-killed crickets, cockroaches, and mealworms weekly or biweekly. They always need a shallow dish of water.

Additionally, centipedes require a minimum humidity of 70%; rainforest species need more. Appropriate ventilation should be provided with a grid cover and small holes on the side of the terrarium, but be sure the holes are small enough that the centipede can’t crawl through. Temperate species like it between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (68–72 Fahrenheit), and tropical species thrive between 25 and 28 degrees Celsius (77–82.4 Fahrenheit).

But be wary—centipedes are aggressive, venomous, and potentially dangerous for humans, especially children. Centipede bites can cause skin damage, bruising, blisters, inflammation, and even gangrene. Therefore, enclosures should be escape-proof; although centipedes can’t climb smooth glass or acrylic, don’t provide them with a way to climb to reach the lid.

And don’t worry if you don’t see your pet centipede out during the day—centipedes are night creatures.

Centipedes Are Good Mothers

You probably wouldn’t expect a centipede to be a good mother, but a surprising number of them dote on their offspring. Female soil centipedes (Geophilomorpha) and tropical centipedes (Scolopendromorpha) lay an egg mass in an underground burrow. Then, the mother wraps her body around the eggs and remains with them until they hatch, protecting them from harm.

Centipedes Are Fast

With the exception of the slow-moving soil centipedes, which are built to burrow, Chilopods can run fast. A centipede’s body is suspended in a cradle of long legs. When those legs start moving, this gives the centipede more maneuverability over and around obstacles as it flees predators or chases prey. The tergites—the dorsal surface of the body segments—may also be modified to keep the body from swaying while in motion. This all results in the centipede being lighting-quick.

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Centipedes Prefer Dark and Moist Environments

Arthropods often have a waxy coating on the cuticle to help prevent water loss, but centipedes lack this waterproofing. To make up for this, most centipedes live in dark, moist environments, like under leaf litter or in damp, rotting wood. Those that inhabit deserts or other arid environments often modify their behavior to minimize the risk of dehydration—they may delay activity until seasonal rains arrive, such as entering diapause during the hottest, driest spells.


How Many Legs Does a Centipede Have?

Question: What Is the Number of Legs on a Centipede?

While the word centipede literally means «100-footed,» most centipedes do not have 100 legs. The number of legs a centipede has depends upon the number of body segments that make up its body, and this number varies by species. Centipedes typically have one pair of legs per segment.

A fully equipped adult centipede can have between 15 and 177 pairs of legs. Members of the Orders Lithobiomorpha and Scutigeromorpha have 15 pairs of legs. Unlike other centipede species, the Scutigera have long, multiarticulate, hairy legs, which enable them to establish a solid grip on the ground and move very quickly. However, Scutigera centipedes are not capable of pushing themselves through soil or into detritus. The house centipede has a rounded trunk with long, delicate legs, while the Geophilomorphs have long, slender bodies with up to 177 pairs of short legs. The colorful Scolopendromorphs have from 21 to 23 pairs of legs.

The body segment behind the centipede’s head contains two legs which have been modified into venomous fangs for hunting prey. To aid in balance and agility, the legs of most centipede species become progressively longer the farther away they are from the head. The last pair of legs trails behind the centipede’s body and is equipped with sensory bristles. These legs act as a supplementary pair of antennae, allowing centipedes to back out of tight spaces. Centipedes are capable of dropping their legs when their survival depends upon it and can regenerate these body parts after shedding them.

Like millipedes, centipedes are arthropods with jointed legs. However, while millipedes have more than one pair of legs attached to each of their body segments, centipedes have only one pair per segment. The American house centipede (Scutigera coleopteran) has four pairs of legs after hatching and 15 as an adult. The additional body segments and legs come with each succeeding molt.


How Many Legs Does a Millipede Really Have?

Let’s start with the basics: Millipedes are not worms, nor are they insects. Insects have six legs, and obviously millipedes have many more. Exactly how many more?

If you think the answer is 994, you’d be wrong, my friend.

It turns out scientists did not choose the Latin prefix in their name, «milli-,» meaning 1,000, as a way to convey the precise number of legs these organisms have. Their colloquial nickname «thousand leggers» is not accurate either.

«I guess the people who were seeing these things and coming up with common names said, ‘Man that’s a lot of legs,'» says Derek Hennen, a Ph.D. candidate in entomology at Virginia Tech who studies millipedes. «It’s a bit of confusing, and it’s the same with centipedes. It’s just getting at the fact that they are very leggy.»

Millipedes fall within a phylum of organisms called arthropods, a category that includes invertebrates as diverse as spiders, scorpions and butterflies. All arthropods have in common a hard exoskeleton, segmented bodies and jointed legs. What distinguishes millipedes is that for each segment of their body, they have two pairs of legs, instead of one pair as you would see with, say, centipedes. This gave way to the more accurate name used by scientists: diplopoda, meaning «double foot.»

Having so many legs is part of what makes millipedes so adaptive. Fossil evidence suggests that millipedes were among the first-ever terrestrial animals, which means they have been around for about 400 million years.

Back in the coniferous period, about 300 million years ago, a millipede species known as Arthropleura grew to an enormous 6.6 feet (2 meters) long and 1.6 feet (0.5 meter) wide. Today, millipedes range in size from 0.1 inch (3 millimeters) to about 11 inches (0.3 of a meter). So far, scientists have discovered about 12,000 species on every continent except Antarctica, but estimate there could be as many as 80,000 species.

«Each state has some millipedes that occur only there, and nowhere else,» says Hennen who loves them so much he runs a Twitter account (@DearMillipede) on all things millipede.

Why Millipedes Have So Many Legs

Millipedes feast on leaf litter that, although not rich in nutrients, is plentiful around the world. This means millipedes spend most of their time in soil, under leaves and rocks. And what makes them so effective at getting around in this dense habitat? Their many mighty legs, of course.

«The collum [first segment] acts like a bulldozer, and having so many legs gives it power to push and burrow into the dirt,» Hennen says.

When millipedes hatch, they only have a few pairs of legs. Then, just like many other creatures such as crabs and spiders, they grow through a process called molting. This process involves shedding their exoskeleton and growing a new one. Each time they do this, millipedes also grow a new segment and therefore two new pairs of legs. Some millipedes stop molting when they reach adulthood, and others molt their whole lives – which on average is about two years.

So, how many legs do millipedes have? It depends on the group, and Hennen says it ranges between 24 and 750, at most. In fact, most millipede species have under 100 legs.

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Differences Between Millipedes and Centipedes

Millipedes have some defensive mechanisms, but they don’t bite or sting. (They have very poor eyesight — some species have no eyes at all — and mostly just use antennae to find their way.) A millipede’s best move when it feels threatened is to curl up in a ball, and secrete chemicals that ward off predators. The chemicals they secrete vary, but are released in such tiny quantities that they are generally not hazardous to humans. Some research describes how in certain tropical regions, monkeys actually seek out millipedes to use the chemicals they secrete as mosquito repellent.

Centipedes, by contrast, can bite using small fangs that secrete venom. Even then, while a centipede bite can be painful, it usually won’t cause other harmful effects.

Leg wise, centipedes’ legs tend to spread out, while millipedes’ legs point downward. Centipedes only have one pair of legs per segment, while millipedes have two pairs. If you’re not keen on getting close enough to check, Hennen says observe the creature’s behavior. If it runs away quickly, it’s likely a centipede. If it just curls up, it’s probably a millipede.


How Many Legs Does a Centipede Really Have? Here the Answer!

Hello everyone, in this article we are going to explain about one of the venomous species named centipede, so you will know how many legs does centipede have and also another interesting facts about this species. And here we go:

Centidpede Legs

When you see a centipede crawling on the ground, it is truly a fascinating creature to watch. If you happen to kick it over on its back, you will be in for a real treat because you will get to see all its legs moving around in the air at the same time. A lot of people believe that centipedes all have 100 legs because the prefix “centi” means 100 in the metric system. The truth is that centipedes could have as little as 30 legs or as many as 300 legs. Each centipede that you find is bound to have a different number of legs. So, do not believe the myth that all centipedes have 100 legs because they do not. Of course, if you want to find out for yourself then you can find a centipede, turn it over, and then start counting.

Scientists believe that over 8,000 centipede species exist in this world. Out of those 8,000 species, only 3,000 of them were discovered or described by people. The number of legs that a centipede has is different for each species. Another thing that determines their leg count is how many body segments they have. With most species of centipedes, each of their body segments contains one pair of legs. The number of body segments that they have could range from 15 all the way to 177. If you multiply those numbers by 2, then you will know how many legs they could have.

Common Places

Centipedes can be found anywhere in the world. People assume that centipedes only exist in tropical rainforests or jungles because of all the plants and moisture. But they can also be found in desert environments too where there is very little plant life and moisture. In deserts, they still need a microhabitat which provides them some moisture to survive. Centipedes tend to lose water very quickly because they don’t have a waxy protective cuticle layer like most spiders and insects do.

When you go searching for centipedes in any environment, you will typically find them underneath the dirt or soil. If there are fallen leaves, logs, or dead wood on the ground, centipedes will be hanging out around those too. This is where they usually hide from other bigger creatures and humans. Meanwhile, they prey upon smaller creatures for food like worms, spiders, and most small insects. There is one centipede species called “Scolopendra Cataracta” which is amphibious and searches for food in water and on land.

Other Interesting Facts

Centipedes are known as invertebrates. This means they do not possess a vertebral column that supplies them with a spine or backbone. In fact, centipedes are the largest invertebrates in the world which prey on other living things. When they go to attack their prey, they have two special legs in the back of their head which serve as venomous fangs. With most species, the legs start off short from the head and then get gradually longer toward the tail. Their two shortest legs are what goes into their prey when they attack. People who get bit by centipedes will often feel numbness in that area for a while. They usually are able to survive as the toxins do not kill them.

The last set of legs contains sensory bristles which they use as antennae to navigate and get out of narrow areas. The most interesting thing is their ability to shed their legs when they need to. Sometimes they will choose to shed their legs if they have no other choice for their own survival. After they are safe, these legs will regenerate in those body segments where they were shed. This also comes in handy if they were to get attacked and lose their legs in battle. They would just regenerate new ones later and continue on their way.


Centipede Jokes

What do you get if you cross a centipede and a parrot?
A walkie talkie!

What do you get if you cross a centipede and a chicken?
Enough drumsticks to feed an army!

Why was the centipede dropped from the insect football team?
He took too long to put his boots on!

What is worse than an alligator with toothache?
A centipede with athlete’s foot!

What is worse than a giraffe with a sore throat?
A centipede with chilblains!

What has 50 legs but cant walk?
Half a centipede!

What do you call a guard with 100 legs?
A sentrypede!

What goes 99-clonk, 99-clonk, 99-clonk?
A centipede with a wooden leg!

How tall is the worlds largest centipede?
A centi-meter.

Did you hear about the two Centipedes in love?
They would complete each others centinces.

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What do you get when you cross an animal rights activist and a centipede?
A centient being.

Why was the centipede late?
Because he was playing ‘This Little Piggy’ with his friends!

I felt so guilty after I stepped on that centipede this morning. You should of seen him, he looked genuinely crushed.

Rare Centipede
A guy goes hiking and finds a rare poisonous centipede. Wanting to show his drinking buddies he puts it in a small ventilated box.
Once he gets it home, the guy decides to take the centipede to his local bar.
He taps on the box and says, «Would you like to go to Charley’s with me and have a beer?»
There’s no answer from the centipede. He waits a few moments then says, «How about you and me going to a bar?»
Again, there’s no answer. Thinking the centipede can’t hear him, the man goes right up to the box and yells, «Hey! Would you like to go to Charley’s and have a drink?!»
A little voice comes out of the box, «I heard you the first time! I’m putting on my shoes.»

A man in a movie theater notices what looks like a centipede sitting next to him.
«Are you a centipede?» asked the man, surprised.
«What are you doing at the movies?»
The centipede replied, «Well, I liked the book.»

A team of little animals and a team of big animals decided to play football.
During the first half of the game, the big animals were winning.
But during the second half, a centipede scored so many touchdowns that the little animals won the game.
When the game was over, the chipmunk asked the centipede, Where were you during the first half?
He replied «Putting on my shoes!»


Habits and Traits of Centipedes, Class Chilopoda

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Taken literally, the name centipede means «one hundred feet.» While they do have a lot of legs, the name is really a misnomer. Centipedes can have anywhere from 30 to over 300 legs, depending on the species.

Class Chilopoda Characteristics

Centipedes belong to the phylum Arthropoda and share all the characteristic arthropod traits with their cousins (insects and spiders). But beyond that, centipedes are in a class by themselves: the class Chilopoda.


Centipede legs extend visibly from the body, with the final pairs of legs trailing behind it. This allows them to run quite fast, either in pursuit of prey or in flight from predators. Centipedes have just one pair of legs per body segment, a key distinction from millipedes.

The centipede body is long and flattened, with a long pair of antennae protruding from the head. A modified pair of front legs functions as fangs used to inject venom and immobilize prey.

Centipedes prey on insects and other small animals. Some species also scavenge on dead or decaying plants or animals. Giant centipedes, which inhabit South America, feed on much larger animals, including mice, frogs, and snakes.

While house centipedes may be creepy to find in the home, you might want to think twice about harming them. House centipedes feed on insects, including the egg cases of cockroaches.

Life Cycle

Centipedes may live for as long as six years. In tropical environments, centipede reproduction usually continues year-round. In seasonal climates, centipedes overwinter as adults and reemerge from their sheltered hideaways in spring.

Centipedes undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, with three life stages. In most centipede species, females lay their eggs in soil or other damp organic matter. The nymphs hatch and go through a progressive series of molts until they reach adulthood. In many species, young nymphs have fewer pairs of legs than their parents. With each molt, the nymphs gain more pairs of legs.

Special Adaptations and Defenses

When threatened, centipedes use a number of different strategies to defend themselves. Large, tropical centipedes don’t hesitate to attack and can inflict a painful bite. Stone centipedes use their long hind legs to throw a sticky substance at their attackers. The centipedes that live in the soil don’t usually try to retaliate. Instead, they curl into a ball to protect themselves. House centipedes choose flight over fight, skittering quickly out of harm’s way.


How many legs does centipede have?

2 Answers

The centipede has only one pair of legs per segment. Different species have different number of body segments. The leggiest species have 29 segments and thus 29 pairs of legs (58 total).

  • Login to reply the answers Post

STILL Sometimes ago I knew centipede means 100 legs. Why it should be otherwise. ):):)

But I think you should look it up in these links.

As it depends perhaps on the species.

—> some have 12-15 pairs of legs.

—> Kentucky stone centipedes—> 15 pairs

—> house centipedes—> 21-23 pairs

—> mostly have as many legs as the number of segments

I have provided some links as for reference

1. Centipede — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

. of a centipede has a conspicuous pair of legs named the . Lithobiomorphs have coxal pores on the ventral surface of the coxae of legs 12-15 in adults. .

2. Talk:Centipede — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

. centipede has ever been reported to have that many legs that it’s an incorrect statements. . never have as many as 100 legs» or «A centipede has yet .

3. Centipedes of Kentucky — University of Kentucky Entomology

. are unique because their first pair of legs have evolved into venomous fangs. . «centipede» means «100 legs,» centipedes usually have much fewer legs, around .

4. House Centipede — Penn State Entomology Department Fact Sheet

The House Centipede webpage includes life cycle information and control . molt the centipede is considered an adolescent and will have 15 legs during each .

The house centipede, unlike most other centipedes that normally live outdoors, can live indoors especially in damp, moist basements, cellars, .


  • Shaunn Snow says:

    That’s crazy how I just came across this video after seeing my FIRST millipede earlier today! It was on the sidewalk leading to my door after work curled up tight in a ball! I thought it was some kind of little grass snake so I started poking it with my pen to see if it was even alive. I was shocked when it finally uncurled and started walking on all those legs! The legs moved in waves and there had to be at least 100 of the really small legs on this maybe 7 or 8 inch long critter. I ended up smashing it flat and then pulling the legs off to count them one by one… JUST KIDDING, lol!! I just walked away and don’t know what happened to it.

  • Bad Rob says:

    It seems obvious that this guy has never actually been bitten by a giant desert centipede. They say a bullet ant is called a bullet ant because it’s sting feels just like getting shot by a 22 calibre gun. And those that have experienced both say that the bullet ant has nothing on the bite of the giant desert centipede as far as pain goes. Only the venomous gila monster has a bite that compares in the amount of pain it brings on. If he had been bitten he would have definitely told a horror story on how bad it was.

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