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Centipedes are one of the largest terrestrial carnivorous invertebrates, with some species reaching up to 30 centimetres in length.
Centipedes belong to the invertebrate group Myriapoda. As a myriapod, centipedes have segmented bodies, many legs, antennae and breathing holes called spiracles. Centipedes are also equipped with venomous claws behind their head which help them paralyse their prey.
Although the name centipede means 100-footed, centipedes do not actually have 100 legs.
Centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment.
The total number of legs a centipede has depends upon the number of body segments its species has.
The lowest number of leg pairs in a centipede species is 15, whilst the highest is 191. The number of leg pairs a centipede has is always an odd number.
Centipedes are found in soil and leaf litter, under rocks and dead wood and inside old logs. In these habitats they are an important part of the ecosystem as they are important predators which control other invertebrate populations. They also form an important food source for animals such as birds, reptiles and small mammals.
Earthworms and other invertebrates make up a large portion of the centipede diet. Some larger species of centipedes have been known to eat reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and birds.
Some centipedes can be hard to find as they are camouflaged to blend in with the environment. Others are brightly coloured to warn predators that they may be poisonous to eat.
Centipedes have their first pairs of legs folded under their mouth parts. These end in sharp claws with venom glands which are used for defence and to kill or paralyse their prey.
Centipedes have flattened streamlined bodies that allow them to move swiftly through the leaf litter. This allows them to quickly run away from predators.
The tail of centipedes is designed to look like its head to confuse predators.
Female adult centipedes attract mates by releasing pheromones which can be detected by the male. In some species the male deposits their sperm in a silk covering called a spermatophore. The male either leaves the spermatophore for females to find and take up or they present it to the female through a courtship dance.
Centipedes have two ways of producing young. Some species lay eggs whilst others give birth to live young through a process called ovoviviparity. This involves eggs hatching inside the body of the mother and being laid as live young.
In some species the female leaves her young where they are laid, whilst in others, the female protects her young by curling her body around them.
Some egg-laying centipedes also lick their eggs to prevent fungus and mould from growing on the eggs.
Centipedes begin their life as an egg.
For many species centipede hatchlings have fewer pairs of legs than adults.
As centipedes have a hard exoskeleton they must moult in order to grow or change shape. Each time a centipede moults it gains additional body segments and legs until it becomes full size.
The time it takes for centipedes to reach adulthood varies with species.
However, compared to insects, centipedes are relatively long-lived. Some species can live for over 10 years!
The Invertebrate Explorer digital book explores the incredible world of Australian invertebrates.
Students can use the book to investigate classification, features, adaptations and habitats of a variety of Australian invertebrates through narrated videos, stunning images, interactive activities and detailed text.
This book was designed by teachers to support the NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus and NSW English K-6 Syllabus.
Content supports living world, Australian animals and class studies on invertebrates.
Australian Museum. 2019. Centipedes and millipedes. [online] Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/centipedes/>.
Museums Victoria. n.d. Do centipedes really have 100 legs?. [online] Available at: <https://museumsvictoria.com.au/article/do-centipedes-really-have-100-legs/>.
Queensland Museum. n.d. Centipedes. [online] Available at: <https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Explore/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Other+Arachnids/Centipedes>.
Centipedes come in many colours and sizes. - "Centipede under a bigger rock chip" by jeans_Photos CC BY 2.0
How many pairs of legs do you think this centipede has? - "Soil Centipede" by Furryscaly CC BY-SA 2.0
Centipedes are important predators in the leaf litter layer and feed on smaller invertebrates. - "Kiss of Death" by Furryscaly CC BY-SA 2.0
Centipedes have venomous claws which help them paralyse their prey. - "Peek-a-Boo" by Furryscaly. CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)
It can be difficult to determine which end of a centipede is the head and which is the tail. - Pixabay. CCO 1.0
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