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Centipedes: Chilopoda

Physical Characteristics

Adult centipedes vary in length from 0.15 to 11.8 inches (4 to 300 millimeters). Most species are completely yellowish or brownish, but a few species are brightly colored with distinctive bands on their bodies and different colored legs and antennae (an-TEH-nee), or sense organs. These bold colors and patterns may serve as warning colors to potential predators (PREH-duh-ters), or animals that hunt other animals for food. The head is flat or dome-shaped. The antennae are long and slender with fourteen to more than one hundred segments. Centipedes are bristling with tiny hairlike structures that are used for touch and smell. The eyes, if present, vary considerably. They may have one or more simple eyes, or eyes with one lens, on either side of the head, or a pair of compound eyes, or eyes with multiple lenses. The mouthparts are made up of three pairs of structures. The jaws help cut up food, while the remaining mouthparts help move food to the jaws.

Mature centipedes are long and, depending on species, have anywhere from fifteen to 191 pairs of legs, for a total of thirty to 382 legs. Adults always have an odd number of leg pairs, with one pair on each body segment. Centipedes are the only animals that have fanglike legs used to inject venom. All the legs are similar in length and appearance, except for the first and last pair. Located on the side of the head, the first pair of legs contains poison glands. They inject venom through an opening at the base of each fanglike claw. The last pair is often long and thick and is sometimes pincherlike. These legs are used for grasping or defense. The remaining legs are used for walking, running, or digging.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceInsects and SpidersCentipedes: Chilopoda - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Centipedes And People, Conservation Status, Scolopender (scolopendra Morsitans): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET