Centipedes belong to the insect class of Chilopoda and there are some 3,150 known species of centipede throughout the world. The class is further broken down into four orders identified as Scutigeromorpha, Scolopendromorpha, Lithobiomorpha and Geophilomorpha, each differentiated by different styles of leg segments and the total number of legs. While the word “centipede” itself (spawned from the Latin) translates to “100 feet”, Centipedes generally do not follow this fixed total in terms of total number of legs. Centipedes can be found with as little as 30 legs or as many as 100. The most common residential North American species is the House Centipede which can grow to be over an inch in length. SOme cenitpede species can exceed six inches in length.
A Centipede is characterized by its multi-legged body segments that are capped with a simple head holding the antennae. Teh feature that gives the cenitpede their imposing appearance is the long legs attached to the sides of the body, keeping the body of the Centipede very low to the ground. This allows the Centipede to move with amazing speeds and enter into tight and shallow confines. The “last” pair of legs is noticeably longer than the rest and has often been mistaken for a rear set of antennae. However, these legs are not used in walking and serve as pincer-type appendages for when capturing and holding prey.
The diet of the Centipede is as varied as the number of species and ranges from smaller insects (i.e. moths or cockroaches) to larger mammals (like rodents and birds) depending on the size and species. Centipedes are also the prey of choice for mammals. Specialized forward legs on the Centipedes body (prehensors) secrete venom into the claws to help the Centipede subdue potential prey while the rear leg appendages keep the prey in place. Centipedes are attracted to dark areas and therefore are most active at night and / or moist dark places. This is why we find them common to residential basements and crawlspaces or even near bathtub drains as well as under rocks etc. Centipedes can bite, if provoked, but generally speaking will run away from humans.