Do centipedes really have 100 legs?

Despite a common name that means 100 legs, Australian species of centipede can have from 15 to 191 pairs of legs.

 Australia currently has 128 species of centipede out of a worldwide fauna of between 2,500 and 3,000 species.

 The Australian species range from around 10 mm in length up to 140mm for our largest, the Giant Centipede (Ethmostigmus rubripes). The world's largest species is Scolopendra gigantea which occurs in northern South America and can reach up to 300mm in length.

 Despite many people thinking that the venomous end of centipedes is at the rear, the venom claws are actually at the front end of the centipede. These claws are linked to venom glands which are used by the centipedes in hunting for prey and for defence.

Centipede fangs
Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of centipede fangs

Centipedes can be fast-moving and voracious hunters with some species capable of catching and killing frogs, small reptiles and mice. Centipede reproduction can involve a period of antenna stroking or a ritualised dance and the eggs are guarded by the female in a number of species.

centipede's antenna
Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of mechanoreceptor on a centipede's antenna

 Many people's experience of centipedes is to find one of the aptly named house centipedes running around in their bath. These centipedes are often an introduced species. Australia's centipedes are important predators in the invertebrate world and amazing animals to watch. Interestingly millipedes, whose common name means 1,000 legs, fall short in the legs area although some species count up to 350 pairs. Check out one of the distant relatives of centipedes and millipedes, the 100cm long Arthropleura model in the 600 Million Years exhibition at Melbourne Museum.

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