Face of a centipede
The face of a centipede

The centipede is part of a large group of animals often overlooked—invertebrates. Invertebrates are animals without backbones. There are somewhere between 3 and 15 million invertebrates on earth, all grouped into sub-categories, or phyla.

The centipede is an invertebrate from the arthropods phyla. Arthropods include centipedes, spiders, and even crustaceans. They account for about 75 percent of all animal species. Arthropods do not have skin; instead they have an exoskeleton, their bones form outside of the body.

Centipedes, like other arthropods, have a segmented body and jointed legs. Centipede means “one hundred feet,” however not all centipedes have 100 feet. Centipedes have between 15 and 177 pairs of legs, one pair of legs per segment. That means centipedes, depending on the species, have 30 to as many as 354 feet. With so many feet and its segmented body, a centipede can move quickly.

A Giant Centipede, Scolopendra heros, native to Arizona measuring 6 inches (15cm) long.

Some legs of the centipede are assigned special roles. A centipede’s front and back legs are longer than the other legs, making them more useful. The first pair are claws that extend like fangs from behind the mouth. These are used to inject a poisonous substance into prey. While the last pair, shaped like pinchers, are used for grasping.

The centipede is a carnivore, feasting on mostly insects, though some tropical centipedes can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) long and find prey as large as frogs and mice. Although their habitats vary drastically from sea level to the mountains, most species of centipedes live beneath rocks or logs. To reproduce, centipedes usually lay eggs in the soil. Some species just leave the eggs, moving on, while others stay to protect and raise the young.

Most centipedes are nocturnal, resting during the day and active at night. With the rare exception, centipedes usually live alone until they are ready to mate. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

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