The centipede is one of the oldest animals on Earth, having been found in fossils dating more than 400 million years ago. They’re infamous for their aggressiveness and creepy appearance. However, most people don’t know much about these crawling little creatures with multiple sets of legs.
So what is a centipede? Does it have 100 feet as its name suggests? What does it eat and where does it nest? This informative article will answer all the burning questions you may have about centipedes. Read on to learn more.
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Centipedes are sometimes referred to as the “hundred-leggers” because of their numerous legs, which run the length of their bodies. They’re flexible and make swift, darting movements.
How can you differentiate centipedes from other many-legged creatures? Here’s a look at their notable features.
What does a centipede look like?
Most common centipede species are grayish to reddish-brown in color. Some tropical species have a bright red, blue, or orange body color whereas others, especially the subterranean ones, don’t have a specific color due to lack of pigmentation.
Other features of the centipede include:
- Long, flattened, segmented body.
- One pair of jointed legs on each segment.
- A pair of long antennae on its head.
- A pair of large, claw-like structures just beneath the head.
Millipedes closely resemble centipedes. Both have wormlike bodies and many legs. So what is the difference between a centipede and a millipede? Read this to find out.
Are centipedes insects?
Centipedes are mistaken for insects due to their multiple legs and long skinny bodies. They’re not insects; they are arthropods.
To be considered an arthropod, an animal must have a segmented body, jointed appendages, and be an invertebrate with an external skeleton (exoskeleton). The centipede’s body is covered in a hard, flexible exoskeleton that’s made of protein and chitin – a tough polysaccharide.
Do centipedes have 100 legs?
The word centipede is derived from the Latin language: the prefix centi- that means “hundred” and pedis meaning “foot.” Because of the name, many people assume that a centipede has 100 legs.
The number of leg pairs in all centipede species is always odd. The total number of feet on the centipede varies from one species to another. It can have as few as 15 leg pairs or as many as 191 leg pairs.
The exoskeletons of centipedes lack the waxy layer that would help them retain moisture. For that reason, centipedes favor damp environments where humidity is high. Centipedes have adapted well to a variety of climates and habitats. They can be found worldwide, and some have even been spotted living in the Arctic Circle. Centipedes are generally found in moist and protected habitats like under rocks, piles of leaves, barks, in crevices in damp soils, and occasionally in rotting wood and burrows.
Centipedes can enter houses and buildings through cracks and holes in foundation walls or by crawling under doors. They’re most commonly seen indoors during spring and summer. They can also be spotted in homes in the winter, but they’re less common.
They like hiding in damp basements, bathrooms, basements, closets, and crawlspaces. They can also hide under carpet edges and in cracks and crevices in your walls.
Centipedes are carnivorous and are therefore pure meat-eaters. They’re primarily hunters, although some occasionally scavenge a meal.
The centipede uses venom to kill its prey. This venom comes from glands located immediately beneath the centipede’s head. Its front pair of legs, which are known as forcipules, connect to these glands. The centipede uses its forcipules to pierce its prey’s skin and inject venom into the wound. This paralyzes the prey.
What do centipedes eat?
Centipedes mainly prey on: insects, small arthropods, annelids, mollusks, and other small invertebrates.
The larger species of centipedes have been known to feed on small mammals and reptiles.
What about household pests?
While not many homeowners are willing to share their dwellings with centipedes, these many-booted crawlers are considered to be among the most advantageous creatures that inhabit homes. That’s because they feed on household pests. They don’t damage food or furniture.
Centipedes make a delicious meal for birds, frogs, toads, and small mammals like mice and shrews.
They protect themselves from their predators with their venom, ability to stay hidden, and speed.
All centipede species have venomous claws, which they use to incapacitate their prey. This fact leads to the question: Do centipedes bite? Get the answer in this article.
How Do Centipedes Reproduce?
Centipedes are naturally solitary, and their sexual activity doesn’t involve copulation.
Their reproductive cycle involves certain rituals:
- The females release pheromones to attract males.
- The males weave a small web and deposit a spermatophore (mass or capsule that contains spermatozoa) for the females to absorb.
- The males may leave the spermatophore for the females to find or may bring it to her attention through a courtship dance. The dance usually involves the male tapping the female’s posterior legs using his antennae.
- The females take in the webs and fertilize the ova within their bodies.
Female centipedes lay 15 to 60 eggs. They usually deposit the eggs in holes made in the soil or hollows of rotting logs. The eggs are coated with a sticky substance for protection.
While some species leave their eggs to develop on their own, others take care of them and the young ones. The latter protect the hatchlings until they’ve molted once or twice. They wrap their bodies around their brood to protect them. However, if the mothers are gravely threatened during this period, they may eat the eggs rather than let the intruder do so.
Stages of development
Centipedes basically go through two development stages: egg and small adult. When centipedes hatch from the eggs, they look like miniature adults.
In most species, the newly hatched centipedes have a fewer pair of legs than the fully-grown adults. To grow, they shed their skin in a process called molting. They gain additional body segments and leg pairs each time they molt.
Upon hatching, the young of the Geophilomorphae and Scolopendromorphae carry a complete set of legs.
How big do centipedes get?
While insects complete their growth once they reach adulthood, centipedes carry on with molting as adults. Their body size varies from species to species. It can reach anywhere from 0.1 to 12 inches in length.
The most common centipedes are usually a few inches long. The largest existing centipede species is the Amazonian giant centipede. It can reach over 12 inches in length. The biggest centipede to have ever existed was the prehistoric Euphoberia, which grew up to 39 inches (one meter) long.
Centipedes are long-lived critters in comparison to many other arthropods, which live for one year or less. Most centipedes live for over a year. Some live as long as 6 years.
Do You Know These Facts About the House Centipede?
The most common species of centipede encountered indoors is the house centipede. It can live its whole life inside a building.
This fast-moving centipede can travel on floors, walls, and ceilings.
The house centipede made it to the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest arthropod in the world. It was clocked at 16 inches per second.
A house centipede scaled up to human size would run at 39 miles per hour.
Did you know that there are about 8,000 centipede species, and only around 3,000 of them have undergone intense scientific study and been properly documented? Learn more about the centipede types by clicking this link.
House centipedes have a fuzzy look thanks to their thin legs and long antennae that are often longer than their body length. They’re generally considered harmless to people.
Here are other facts you should know about the house centipede:
- Appearance: The adult house centipede has 15 pairs of very long, jointed legs. It’s about 1 to 1.5 inches long. Its body is brownish to grayish-yellow with three dark stripes visible from above.
- Diet: This centipede feeds on pests inside your home such as ants, cockroaches, spiders, bedbugs, termites, silverfish, and carpet beetles.
- Habitat: House centipedes prefer cool, damp locations such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, crawlspaces, and below the bark of firewood kept indoors.
- Habits: House centipedes have gradual metamorphosis, so the immature ones and the adults have similar appearances. All the life stages can be seen dashing across floors or trapped in sinks, lavatories, and bathtubs. The house centipede usually forages for food at night.
- Threat: Although a house centipede can bite, its jaws are quite small. It prefers running away to biting humans. In case it bites, it causes nothing more than a slight swelling or temporary, localized pain.
The centipede looks scarier than it actually is. Most likely, you’ve come across one and have been frightened or disgusted by it. Now that you have a wealth of knowledge on it including its habits and food sources, you can accept it as your ally because it can help you rid your home of pests.
However, if you don’t want centipedes anywhere near your home, you can take a step toward controlling them by eliminating their food sources.
You can find further details of Centipedes Control here.