What are Centipedes?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2020
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Centipedes, often called thousand-leggers, are long bugs that are often tan or brownish. In some places, they are even found in shades of red. They are nicknamed thousand-leggers because they have what appears to be a thousand little legs, which they use to run very quickly across a floor or wall. There are an estimated 8000 species of centipedes, and they live around the world. They are arthropods.

Like all arthropods, they have skeletons that are on the outside of their bodies and segmented, jointed legs. Though they may look as if they have a thousand legs, in fact, they have just one pair of legs per body segment, so centipedes typically have between 30 to 70 legs.

While most arthropods have strong shells to protect them from dehydration, centipedes lack this. For this reason, they prefer to hunt at night when it is cooler, yet more humid. When they live in the outdoors, they prefer to spend their days hiding under rocks or fallen wood and leaves. Sometimes, when it is very hot, centipedes burrow into the ground and lie dormant until rainfall encourages them to come out to hunt once more.


Centipedes are not really insects. They have far too many legs to be considered true insects, as bugs that fit into that category have six legs or less. Also, insects usually have bodies that are divided into three segments. A centipede, on the other hand, has a very small head and multiple segments. Each different segment has its own pair of legs, so a centipede with 15 segments would have 30 legs.

Centipedes are carnivorous creatures. Although they are often described as household pests, they actually help to rid a home of insects. Humans are often quite afraid of them, although they rarely do them harm. Typically, these bugs avoid getting close enough to bite humans. It is, however, possible for them to deliver a bite that delivers a painful sting.

Centipedes have very poor eyesight, yet they are skilled hunters. They use their very developed senses of smell and touch to run towards their prey and grab it with pincers that dispense venom. They commonly kill and consume such things as spiders, cockroaches, moths, and common houseflies.

The centipedes found in residential homes are typically very small, often coming in at 1 to 2 inches (2.54 to 5.08 centimeters)long. However, some types can grow quite large. In fact, the giant desert centipede, which lives in North America, can grow to be a whopping 9 inches (22.86 centimeters) long. It preys on small lizards, rodents and toads, leaving the insect meals for its smaller relatives. The largest centipede in the world is known as the Amazonian giant centipede, and it reaches more than 12 inches in length, feasting on bats, rodents and spiders, among other things.


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