Why Do Centipedes Have So Many Legs?

Common house centipedes always get a bad rap. And it’s pretty understandable because they can look really intimidating, potentially poison you, and travel at such fast speeds that they can cause terror. 

But these (mostly) innocuous creatures aren’t as creepy as you might believe, even if they have so many creepy-looking legs.

And what’s with the legs? Why do centipedes have so many legs?

Only natural selection can say why, exactly. But centipedes use their many legs for speed to catch prey — and to escape from being prey! As they mature, they add segments to their bodies rather than make their existing bodies bigger.

In this article, I’ll dig into the creepy crawly details of centipede legs!


Why Do Centipedes Have So Many Legs?

Centipedes are made up of many segments, which they add to as they fully mature. This process can take up to three years. And that’s because centipedes don’t metamorphosis as other insects do.

In fact, they’re not insects at all, but are known as arthropods

What happens as they grow is that they molt their shells, just like a snake sheds its skin. And with each molting process, they sometimes create more segments — with another pair of legs to match.

This means that centipedes have one set of legs per each segment of their body, which are positioned at the side. 

So, the number of legs will depend on how many segments they have. Pairs of centipede legs can range from 15 to 354, depending on the species.

Centipedes are carnivorous creatures that need to hunt for their food, because they mostly feast on insects, like bed bugs, spiders, beetles, silverfish, and cockroaches (and some feed on birds, bats, and more!). Therefore, the need for speed is very important when it comes to a centipede catching its dinner.

Centipedes are carnivorous creatures that need to hunt for their food, because they mostly feast on insects, like bed bugs, spiders, beetles, silverfish, and cockroaches (and some feed on birds, bats, and more!). Therefore, the need for speed is very important when it comes to a centipede catching its dinner.

This can be seen as the main reason why centipedes have so many long legs, which allow them to navigate not only forward, but also both backward and sideways.

Another reason why centipedes have so many legs is that when they’re running away from becoming prey themselves — from the birds, lizards, and scorpions that eat them — these creepy-looking critters can use their long legs to help them hide quickly. 

Amazon Giant Centipede

Centipedes also have very long antennae, and their back legs are almost as long as these. Their antennae help them to find their prey, while their venomous claws capture and paralyze their feast.

In fact, it’s the first pair of legs near the centipede’s antennae that transform into their claws.


Are Centipedes And Millipedes The Same Thing?

No, centipedes are different than millipedes, though they’re pretty similar.

Millipedes are arthropods just like centipedes, and they also have antennae and lots of legs that many people may find a bit creepy. 

Millipede

Millipedes are arthropods just like centipedes, and they also have antennae and lots of legs that many people may find a bit creepy.

They even shed their exoskeletons and grow more segments as they get older, just like centipedes do. And you may even find them in the same sort of environments, but that’s where their similarities end.

Just like there’s a common misconception that centipedes have 100 pairs of legs, many people think millipedes have 1,000 pairs. But they don’t.

In fact, millipedes have two sets of legs that are attached to each segment of their body, and they’re tucked underneath, not stuck out to their sides like centipedes.

Depending on the species, the number of segments that millipedes have will range from 10 to around 100, although the female California millipede has many more, and can grow up to 750 legs.

Millipedes also have antennae that help them to navigate. But these antennae are shorter, because they are vegetarian. They only need to find decomposing foliage to feed on, not chase after speedy insects to eat.

This is why they move in slower wave-like patterns and burrow their way into the decaying vegetation that lies on the ground. As they do so, they move and nourish the soil in the same way that earthworms do.


Legging It

If you ever wondered why centipedes have so many legs, after reading this article you now know that these amazing creatures need all of their legs to help them move around quickly — whether they’re running away from another animal, or on the lookout for their next insect feast.

So, the next time you happen to see one, try not to squish it, because it will be on a mission either way. And if you’re trying to get rid of them, see these natural centipede killers.