Small Animals

Why do centipedes have so many legs?


The name centipede actually means “one hundred legs”! Most centipedes don’t have exactly 100 legs though. Some have as around 30, but some have over 300!

They are not insects. They are in a special group of animals with lots of legs called myriapods, which are some of the oldest animals to live on dry land. Some fossils for these creatures are over 400 million years old! That’s way older than dinosaurs!

Centipedes are hunters, so they have to be fast. Having all those legs helps support their very long and thin bodies and lets them move quickly to catch their food. They aren’t really dangerous to people, though they are poisonous. Usually a centipede bite doesn’t hurt more than a bee sting, but it’s always better to be safe and just avoid touching them. Sometimes people have allergies to animals that they don’t know about.

Centipedes have an interesting body plan! They are made out of many segments. It’s sort of like how one train is made of many cars! Except for their heads and tails, centipedes’ body segments all look pretty much the same, and they each have one pair of legs. Every time a centipede grows a new segment, it gets a new pair of legs to hold it up!

Having more legs doesn’t always make an animal faster though. Millipedes, which are cousins of the centipedes, have two pairs of legs for every body segment, but they move slower! It takes a lot of work to keep their legs from bumping into each other!

by Mya Kagan (Whyzz writer)


More Legs, More Fun!

Have you ever been in a three-legged race? It’s like a regular race except for one twist: one of your legs is tied to the leg of one of your friends. It’s like you and your friend are one person, just with three legs!

Do you think it would be harder to walk with a leg tied to someone else’s? Do you think you’d move faster than you would alone? Try it at home! Just make sure you’re on a soft lawn or in an open space where you won’t fall and accidentally hurt yourself!

Think of what it would be like to try to coordinate hundreds of legs at once like a centipede does!


Centipedes. On (The Salk Institute).Stewart, J. W. Centipedes and Millipedes. Edited by E. Cross. 28 July 1997. The Texas A&M University System