“Do millipedes have a million legs?”

A female Illacme millipede with 618 legs. (Photo: Marek, P.; Shear, W.; Bond, J. [2012] via Creative Commons/Wikipedia)

A female Illacme millipede with 618 legs. (Photo: Marek, P.; Shear, W.; Bond, J. [2012] via Creative Commons/Wikipedia)

You may recall that about two weeks ago, The Eight-Year-Old wanted to know whether centipedes really had 100 legs. (Answer: Very few have exactly 100 legs, some have more, some have less.)

When I finished explaining that to The Eight-Year-Old, she naturally wanted to know if that meant millipedes had a million legs. It took an inordinately long time to convince her that “milli-” actually meant one thousand, and not one million (we were walking to school at the time, so we didn’t have a dictionary available to back my assertion up). Eventually, she agreed, quite reluctantly, to accept for the sake of argument that “milli-” meant a mere thousand. But by that time, we were at school and there was simply no time left to discuss millipede legs.

I had evaded the icky bug question for another day, I thought.

Of course, you know The Eight-Year-Old. As soon as I picked her up from school, she wanted to know what I’d found out.

The Eight-Year-Old: “So do millipedes have a million legs, Mommyo?”

Thankfully, no. According to Wikipedia, most millipedes have between 34 and 400 legs. The Illacme plenipes millipede, found in California, has the most legs of any creature in the world. They can grow to have up to 750 legs.

You, like The Eight-Year-Old, may recall from our previous post that centipedes can have anywhere from 30 to 354 legs as well.

So naturally The Eight-Year-Old had a question. “Mommyo, what’s the difference between centipedes and millipedes?”

Ugh. I knew that was coming. “That, my dear, is a question for another day.”

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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 will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-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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One Response to “Do millipedes have a million legs?”

  1. tirane93 says:

    “Mommyo, what’s the difference between centipedes and millipedes?”

    the only appropriate response in my household would have been, “4 to 46, dear.”


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