There are approximately 1,700 species of centipede. They are represented on every continent with 10% occurring in southern Africa. Fossil evidence reveals that giant centipedes occurred 300 million years ago. Along with scorpions they are one of the oldest terrestrial arthropods. Centipedes generally live for 2 to 3 years with larger species living up to 5 years. They are carnivores which subdue their prey by grabbing it with their venomous claws. A centipede has 1 pair of legs per body segment whereas a millipede has 2.
Centipedes are equipped with a pair of venomous fangs (forcipules) on their first segment. As they encircle their prey using their legs for grip they then inject venom and digestive juices.
Mating in centipedes is a non descript affair. The male places a spermatophore (sperm sac) close to the female’s reproductive opening. With his job done he leaves and the sperm make their own way into the female.
Some surface hunting centipedes will lay a large individual egg. It will then roll it in the sand and other debris which sticks to the egg’s surface as camouflage.
Centipedes are carnivores. They subdue their prey by grabbing it with their venomous claws before encircling and holding fast with their many legs. Prey depends upon the size of the centipede species, it could anything from range from invertebrates to snakes, frogs and mice.
Centipedes that care for their eggs will also protect the young until the hatchlings have moulted once, maybe even twice. However, during this period if she is seriously threatened she may actually eat them rather than allow the intruder to do so.
Some centipedes have external parasites that have developed suckers on their feet to attach themselves to the centipede’s smooth exoskeleton.
Some species of centipede demonstrate parental care. Laying 20 to 60 eggs in an underground burrow she will then proceed to wrap her body around the eggs for up to 2 months until they hatch.
The word centipede is derived from the Latin word for “hundred”, centi and “foot”, pes. Despite its name it will never have 100 legs as they only ever have an odd number. Numbers range from 15 pairs to 171 pairs.