Centipede Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sara Clarke-Vivier

Sara is a recently graduated PhD in Education with interdisciplinary experience in K-12 education.

What's that scuttling across the floor of your basement? It's a centipede! In this lesson, you'll learn about where these animals live, what they look like, and whether or not they really have 100 legs.

What Is a Centipede?

What small, fast-moving arthropod can you find from the Arctic Circle to the desert to the rain forest? Why, it's the fast, flexible, and many-legged centipede! Across the world, there are more than 3,000 known species of centipedes. Let's check out some fun facts about these creatures.

What Do Centipedes Look Like?

Body and Legs

The word ''centipede'' means ''100 legs'', but that name is misleading. A centipede's legs are counted in pairs. Some species have as few as 15 pairs, and some have as many as 171 pairs of legs. All species have an odd number of pairs, which means it's not possible for a centipede to have 100 legs.

A Centipede from Mexico
A Centipede from Mexico

A centipede has one pair of legs per segment on its body; some species even add pairs as they grow new segments. Having a segmented body and many legs means that centipedes can move quickly across the ground.

One important fact about these legs is that they can regenerate, which means new legs will grow to replace those that are lost. So, if a bird or another predator gets hold of a centipede's legs, the centipede may escape with its life.

The set of legs on a centipede's first segment are not for walking - they are actually venomous fangs! These fangs, called forcipules (pronounced four-seh-pewls), help centipedes stun and kill their prey.

Color and Size

In some places, particularly tropical regions, centipedes can grow up to one foot long, the same length as a ruler you might use in school. Others types of centipedes are very small, just a few millimeters in length. That means you could fit three of these tiny centipedes within one inch on that same ruler.

What Do Centipedes Eat?

Centipedes are hunters and carnivores, which means that they mostly eat meat. They use their fast-moving legs and powerful forcipules to catch and kill insects.

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