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Despite their name (which means "100 legs"), centipedes do not have 100 legs. Centipedes are fast-moving, carnivorous, venomous invertebrates. They have a hard exoskeleton and jointed legs. They live on land in moist microhabitats (under rocks and logs, in leaf debris, or occasionally in burrows). A common centipede is the house centipede, Scutigera forceps, which is about 2 inches (5 cm) long and has 15 pairs of legs. Some centipedes (like Geophilus electricus) glow in the dark.
Anatomy: Centipedes have a flattened, segmented body, long antennae, and many legs (each leg is slightly longer than the one in front of it). Centipedes have from 15 to about 177 segments (it is always an odd number, but most have about 15). Each body segment has a pair of legs that stick out from the sides. A member of the genus Geophilus has 177 pairs of legs. When a leg is cut off it will regenerate. The body is divided into two parts, the head and a segmented trunk. They breathe through spiracles, holes positioned along the body.
Diet: Centipedes are carnivores (meat-eaters) that use venom to kill their prey. The venom comes from glands that open near the first pair of modified legs (which act as poisonous fangs). Their bite can be painful to a human but not lethal. Centipedes eat insects, earthworms, spiders, slugs, and other small animals. The largest centipede, Scolopendra gigas (from Trinidad in the West Indies), also eats mice and some small lizards. Scolopendra gigas grows to be about 10 inches (25 cm) long and 1 inch wide.
Enemies: Birds, toads, and shrews eat centipedes, as do some people.
Reproduction: The average female centipede lays 60 sticky eggs (which are fertilized internally). She drops the eggs into a hole she digs in the soil. Some centipedes care for their eggs and the hatchlings.
Classification: Kingdom Animalia (animals), Phylum Arthropoda (jointed legs and an exoskeleton), Superclass Myriapoda ("many-footed" with a 2-segmented body, including millipedes, centipedes, etc.), Class Chilopoda (centipedes). About 20 families and 3,000 species of centipedes have been described.
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