Chilopoda Click to enlarge image
Centipedes (Class Chilopoda) Image: Andrew Howells
© Australian Museum

Centipedes belong to the Class Chilopoda.

What do centipedes look like?


  • 4 mm - 300 mm in length


  • Elongate and column-like.
  • Tergites (plates on upperside of body) alternating long and short in several groups.
  • Appears hard.


  • Single pair.
  • Thread-like with many segments.
  • Rarely longer than body.


  • Variable between different groups.
  • Usually a pair of complex eyes (compound) with one or more simple eyes (ocelli) on each side of head. Some blind species exist.


  • For munching.


  • Absent.


  • 15 to 191 pairs of legs (always an odd number), one pair per body segment.
  • Maxillipedes (appendages found between first walking legs and mouth) have a poison gland near tip.

Body tip:

  • Appendages that have a sensory, grasping or defensive function. These may appear thread-like with many segments or forcep-like.

Where are centipedes found?

  • Common in wet forests.
  • In dry forests, grassland and deserts.
  • Some species in caves.
  • In leaf litter and soil or under rocks, wood or bark

What do centipedes do?

  • They are solitary except when mothers are tending eggs or hatchlings.
  • When disturbed many are capable of running extremely fast and usually try to conceal themselves. Some raise the end of their bodies in a threatening pose while others are capable of dropping legs, which are replaced during next moult.
  • They are almost exclusively predators feeding typically on soft-bodied invertebrates.
  • They are venomous. Venom used to paralyse prey and is not harmful to humans.
  • They are often aggressive towards same species, sometimes cannibalistic.
  • Some produce silk, which is used during mating or for entangling prey.
  • They are active at night, if active during day then in dark places.

What looks similar?

  • Millipedes are often confused with centipedes. They can be distinguished from centipedes by having two pairs of legs on each body segment. They tend to be slow moving and non-aggressive (although often emit pugnent secretions). They are also usually harder, feed on decaying plant material and many curl or roll into a ball when resting or threatened.
  • Symphylans (Class Symphyla) are mostly smaller than centipedes (body length usually less than 10 mm), they are all blind, mostly pale yellow (none with striking colours as may be seen in centipedes) and only have 12 pairs of walking legs.