Centipedes are pretty high up there on peoples’ lists of most-hated bugs. These creepy crawlies are known for their many legs and are found on every continent in the world except for Antarctica. Centipedes are a common household pest and give people the heebie-jeebies with their writhing legs and proportionally large heads.
Despite their negative associations, centipedes are extremely interesting animals. They play an important ecological role and can tell us a lot about the evolution of life on Earth. So today we are going to look at some amazing facts about these many-legged bugs.
1. They Are Not Insects
Despite being commonly called a bug, centipedes are not insects. They are arthropods—a group of invertebrate animals with exoskeletons that include spiders, scorpions, shrimp, lobster, and crab. There are over 8,000 known species of centipede that exist all over the world.
2. They Don’t Really Have 100 Legs
The term “centipede” comes from two Latin words that mean “100” and “legs.” However, very few centipedes actually have 100 or more legs. Documented centipedes have between 30-80 legs on average. The European centipede Himantarum gabrielis has the most recorded legs at 354. Interestingly enough, all centipedes have an odd number of pairs of legs. So in reality, no centipede actually has exactly 100 legs.
3. They Don’t Like Dryness
Virtually all centipedes prefer moist, damp climates. This is because they lax the waxy subcutaneous layer that other arthropods such as spiders and scorpions have, and so are much more susceptible to dehydration. However, the lack of this waxy layer also allows them to move much faster as their numerous body segments are not occluded.
4. They Are All Venomous
All centipedes are predators and all centipedes use venom to hunt their prey. However, the venomous part of centipedes is not their mouths. Instead, centipedes use a set of modified forelegs as pincers that strike and pierce prey. Centipede bites can be very painful for humans, but the venom is usually not fatal. They are also usually not aggressive to humans, preferring to stay out of sight most of the time. Only one species of centipede, the giant centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) is known to cause fatal bites in humans.
5. Centipedes Are Old
Centipedes are old—like really old. The first centipedes emerged over 400 million years ago and many ancient species still exist today. In fact, the oldest land animal fossil that we have is of a myriapod, the subphylum that includes centipedes and millipedes. Centipede evolution spans hundreds of millions of years and tells us a lot about relationships between existing arthropods.
6. Not All Centipedes Live Outside
Centipedes include an organism with an extremely unique trait. The common house centipede often lives its entire life indoors. House centipedes are born, live, and die entirely indoors, mostly on the ground floor of buildings and homes. Although they look creepy, house centipedes can be a good thing as they eat common household pests such as termites, flies, and ants.