“Do centipedes really have 100 legs?”

Ah, summertime in Chicago. After six relatively bug-free months, all the little critters have come out to play and provoke questions in The Eight-Year-Old’s wonderfully elastic great brain.

Centipede via the Orkin website

Centipede via the Orkin website

Questions like: “Do centipedes really have 100 legs?”

Although the word “centipede” does mean “100-footed,” my go-to consultant on all invasive bug species, the Orkin Man assures me that most centipedes do not in fact have 100 legs.

Some of them have 354 (the Geophilomorphs).

To which I say, verily and forsooth, ick.

Don’t despair, the Orkin Man tells me. There are plenty of centipedes, like the American house centipede that only have 30 legs. (Like that makes anything better.)

In general, centipedes have one pair of legs for every body segment. A full-grown American house centipede, for example, has fifteen body segments, which is why they only have 15 pairs of legs. Sadly for me, those legs are long, multi-articulate (jointed), and hairy.

To make matters even worse, the legs on the body segment behind the centipede’s head aren’t really legs. They’ve evolved into venomous fangs which the centipede uses to hunt prey. Although centipedes mostly use the fangs to paralyze soft-bodied insects, spiders, worms, and other centipedes, they have been known to bite humans when handled. Centipede bites are extremely painful, and can cause numbness, discoloration, and inflammation.

Which is why it is a totally rational reaction to scream in terror and flee at least three rooms over at the sight of one. (So there, Daddyo.)

Well, that’s all I can take of that.

If you want to know more, find it out yourself.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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