Physical Anatomy of Centipedes

Believe it or not, centipedes are not just composed of body segments, multiple legs and forcipules which are clearly visible on their physical appearance. Centipedes may seem like simple creatures but they are not. They actually have an interesting and complex "anatomy".

Similar to the arthropods, centipedes do not have an internal skeleton which explains why they feel "squishy" when held by hand. Instead of an internal skeleton, they have a "cuticle exoskeleton" which usually protects their vulnerable organs and soft bodies.

Their exoskeleton has something called "chitin" which can be found in the shells of the sea creatures such as crab shell. In addition, centipedes have multiple cuticle layers. The first layer is the skin (in scientific term, it's called "epidermis"). But unlike other arthropods, centipedes do not have a waxy outer cuticle.

Since the body of a centipede lacks a waxy cuticle, it is common for them to die from dehydration. It is due to this reason why they joyfully inhabit hot climates. They actually reside under rocks, in soil and near the water as it allows them to conserve water and prevents them from dehydration.

Going back into the exoskeleton of a centipede, scientists had discovered it as "non-living" which means, it does not grow. Thus, when the centipede grow, its exoskeleton stays the same exact size from the time that the creature was hatched. As a result, the exoskeleton can get extremely tight that the centipedes may need to shed their exoskeleton to grow a new one. In fact, this process is referred by researchers as "molting".

The other parts of the centipede body include a long antennae (most species has an average length of 1 to 2 inches long) and many pairs of legs. Depending on the type of centipede specie, they can have anywhere between 15 pairs of legs to a whopping 141 pairs of legs. Additionally, centipedes possess a head and a pseudo-head (which is a sort of defense mechanism).

It is known that all species of centipedes choose to prey on insects. Their strategic hunting style is to surprise attack their prey using their forcipules attached into their real head. If they managed to successfully embed their jaws and delivered some amount of venom, this causes an immediate effect which paralyze their prey.

Centipedes actually have multi-jointed antennae and jaws that are connected into their forcipules which are filled with poison. And above all, their jaw is located behind their head which they use to kill their prey.

Anamorphy and Epimorphy of Centipedes Legs

Everybody know that it is common to all kinds of centipedes that they have dozen pairs of legs. One interesting fact about their legs is that, most of them actually grow their legs at different rates. These rates has been classified by the scientists as "Anamorphic" and "Epimorphic".

The growth rate of centipedes depends on several factors which include their class, age and status of their evolution. But in general, any centipedes that almost complete the number of their legs during their molting period is categorized as anamorphic. As for those who almost complete their legs before they go through their molting period is categorized as epimosphic. Newly hatched centipedes start off with only a dozen pair of legs or less. Usually they have no more than 4 or 10 legs and no more than 12 or 15 legs.


There are two common species of centipedes that undergoes anamorphic growth rate of their legs. They are the Scutigera Coleoptrata (commonly known as the "American House Centipede") and Craterostigmomorpha. On their early stage of being hatched, they have 4 to 6 legs. And once they go through their first molt, they grow another four legs.

When they reached an age of 6 months to 1 year-old, they have completed all of their legs. Female centipedes with up to 15 legs are considered as sexually mature adult which they are ready to produce their own young.


Just like anamorphy, epimorphy is also commonly observed from two species which are the Geophilomorpha and Scolopendromorpha. Surprisingly, these two kinds of centipedes already have their complete set of legs when they are embryos. They got up to 12 or more legs and once born, they have their complete legs.

Females actually have some slight differences to the males. It's because female centipedes usually have more number of legs than the males. To be more specific, the females can have over 15 total number of legs while the males can only have between 8 to 12 legs.

House Centipede Anatomy

Overall, despite of the simple appearance of centipedes, the anatomy of their body are composed of interesting parts which are a lot more than meets the eye.