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Centipedes: Chilopoda

Behavior And Reproduction

Most centipedes are active at night. During the day they seek shelter under objects on the ground, inside logs and stumps, or in animal burrows. During the hot dry weather they will usually bury themselves deep in the soil. They are not territorial and move about the environment in search of food and mates.

Centipedes live alone until they are ready to mate or when they are raising their young. When they do meet, they are often very aggressive toward one another and will sometimes eat the other. Some species living along the seashore hunt in packs. Several individuals will feed together on the same animal, usually a barnacle or beach hopper.

When threatened, centipedes protect themselves by running away or biting. Others whip their bodies about or spread their hind legs wide in a threatening manner. Some species fool predators by having markings that make them look as if they have two heads. Others release bad smelling and tasting chemicals from glands on their undersides. In one group of centipedes, these chemicals actually glow in the dark. A few centipedes produce glue that hardens within seconds when exposed to air. This sticky stuff can tangle up the legs of even the largest insect predators.

Most species must mate to reproduce. The male usually places a sperm packet in a web on the ground. He then coaxes the female to the web by tapping her back legs with his antennae. This courtship may last for hours. Eventually the rear of her body comes into contact with the web and she takes the packet into her reproductive organs. A few kinds of centipedes are capable of parthenogenesis (PAR-thuh-no-JEH-nuh-sihs), where the young develop from unfertilized eggs. Only females are produced by this method of reproduction.

Some species of centipedes lay their eggs one at a time. In other species the female digs out chambers in rotten wood or soil and lays up to eighty or more eggs all at once. She wraps her body around her eggs and cleans them constantly so funguses, molds, or hungry predators do not harm them. Of these species some will eventually camouflage the eggs with bits of soil and abandon them. Others will remain with their eggs, even until after they hatch. They are unable to hunt and remain with their mother until after their next molt, or shedding of their hard outer coverings or exoskeletons.

Young centipedes resemble small adults. However, depending on the species, they may not hatch with their full number of legs. Additional pairs of legs and body segments are added as they molt. For example, hatchlings of house centipedes have only four pairs of legs, while the adults have fifteen. Stone centipedes hatch with six to eight pairs of legs, while the adults have fifteen. In other groups of species, such as the earth-loving centipedes and scolopenders, hatchlings come into the world with all the legs they will ever have. All centipedes molt several times before reaching maturity in a matter of months or years.


The exoskeletons of insects are coated with a waxy layer that keeps them from drying out, but centipedes don't have this waxy layer. Without their bodies to help them, desert-dwelling centipede species depend instead on their behavior to prevent water loss. They come out only at night when the air is cooler and wetter, and they spend their days hiding in the cool and moist shelters of animal burrows or beneath rocks.

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