How Many Pairs of Legs Does a Centipede Have?

While the word centipede literally means "100-footed," most centipedes do not have 100 legs. The number of legs a centipede has depends upon the number of body segments that make up its body, and this number varies by species. Centipedes typically have one pair of legs per segment.

A fully equipped adult centipede can have between 15 and 177 pairs of legs. Members of the Orders Lithobiomorpha and Scutigeromorpha have 15 pairs of legs. Unlike other centipede species, the Scutigera have long, multiarticulate, hairy legs, which enable them to establish a solid grip on the ground and move very quickly. However, Scutigera centipedes are not capable of pushing themselves through soil or into detritus. The house centipede has a rounded trunk with long, delicate legs, while the Geophilomorphs have long, slender bodies with up to 177 pairs of short legs. The colorful Scolopendromorphs have from 21 to 23 pairs of legs.

The body segment behind the centipede's head contains two legs which have been modified into venomous fangs for hunting prey. To aid in balance and agility, the legs of most centipede species become progressively longer the farther away they are from the head. The last pair of legs trails behind the centipede's body and is equipped with sensory bristles. These legs act as a supplementary pair of antennae, allowing centipedes to back out of tight spaces. Centipedes are capable of dropping their legs when their survival depends upon it and can regenerate these body parts after shedding them.

Like millipedes, centipedes are arthropods with jointed legs. However, while millipedes have more than one pair of legs attached to each of their body segments, centipedes have only one pair per segment. The American house centipede (Scutigera coleopteran) has four pairs of legs after hatching and 15 as an adult. The additional body segments and legs come with each succeeding molt.