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Centipedes are elongated animals with one pair of legs per body segment. Despite the name, centipedes can have a varying number of legs from under 20 to over 300. Centipedes have an odd number of pairs of legs, e.g. 15 or 17 pairs of legs (30 or 34 legs) but never 16 pairs (32 legs). A key trait uniting this group is a pair of venom claws formed from a modified first appendage. Centipedes are a predominantly carnivorous.

Centipedes normally have a drab coloration combining shades of brown and red. Cave-dwelling and subterraneanspecies may lack pigmentation and many tropical species have bright colors. Size can range from a few millimetres to about 30 cm (12 inches). Centipedes can be found in a wide variety of environments.

Worldwide there are estimated to be 8,000 species of centipedes.  Centipedes have a wide geographical range, reaching beyond the Arctic Circle. Centipedes are found in an array of terrestrial habitats from tropical rainforests to deserts. Within these habitats centipedes require a moist micro-habitat because they lack the waxy cuticle of insects and arachnids, and so lose water rapidly through the skin. Accordingly, they are found in soil and leaf litter, under stones and dead wood, and inside logs. Centipedes are among the largest terrestrial invertebrate predators.

Centipedes have a rounded or flattened head, bearing a pair of antennae. They have a pair of elongated mandibles. The first pair of limbs stretch forward from the body to cover the remainder of the mouth. These limbs, or maxillipeds, end in sharp claws and include venom glands that help the animal to kill or paralyze its prey.

Centipedes possess a variable number of eyes, which are sometimes clustered together to form true compound eyes. Even so, it appears that centipedes are only capable of discerning light and dark, and not of true vision. Indeed, many species lack eyes altogether. In some species the final pair of legs act as sense organs similar to antennae, but facing backwards. 

Forcipules are a unique feature found only in centipedes and in no other arthropods. The forcipules are modifications of the first pair of legs, forming a pincer-like appendage always found just behind the head. Forcipules are not true mouthparts, although they are used in the capture of prey items, injecting venom and holding onto captured prey. Venom glands run through a tube almost to the tip of each forcipule.

The Amazonian giant centipede, is the largest existing species of centipede in the world, reaching over 12 inches in length. It is known to eat lizards, frogs, birds, mice, and even bats, catching them in midflight, as well as rodents and spiders.

Centipedes lay their eggs singly in holes in the soil, the female fills the holes with soil and leaves them. The number of eggs laid ranges from about 10 to 50. Time of development of the embryo to hatching is highly variable and may take from one to a few months. Time of development to reproductive period is highly variable within and among species. 

Females centipedees show parental care. The eggs are laid in a nest in the soil or in rotten wood. The female stays with the eggs, guarding and licking them to protect them from fungi. The female in some species stays with the young after they have hatched, guarding them until they are ready to leave. If disturbed, the female will either abandon the eggs or eat them; abandoned eggs tend to fall prey to fungi rapidly. In some species the offspring will eat their mother.

Centipedes are a predominantly predators. They are generalist predators, which means that they have adapted to eat a variety of different available prey. Examination of centipede gut contents suggest that plant material is an unimportant part of their diet although centipedes have been observed to eat vegetable matter when starved during laboratory experiments.

Centipedes are mostly nocturnal.  They have been observed eating reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, bats and birds. Centipedes and spiders may frequently prey on one another.

Centipedes are eaten by a great many vertebrates and invertebrates, such mongooses, mice, salamanders, beetles and snakes. 

Centipedes are found in moist microhabitats. Water regulation is an important aspect of their ecology, since they lose water rapidly in dry conditions. Water loss is a result of centipedes lacking a waxy covering of their exoskeleton and excreting waste nitrogen as ammonia, which requires extra water. Centipedes deal with water loss through a variety of adaptations. 

Some species of centipede can be hazardous to humans because of their bite. Although a bite to an adult human is usually very painful and may cause severe swelling, chills, fever, and weakness, it is unlikely to be fatal. Bites can be dangerous to small children and those with allergies to bee stings. The bite of larger centipedes can induce anaphylactic shock in such people. Smaller centipedes usually do not puncture human skin.



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