Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory



Local fauna, Queanbeyan district, NSW

Local fauna, Queanbeyan district, NSW


Regional Maps



Compiler and date details

28 February 2003 - Matthew Colloff & Fiona Spier, CSIRO Entomology, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia


Chilopoda, commonly known as centipedes, are dorsoventrally flattened, elongate, soft-bodied animals commonly found in many natural habitats as well as in gardens. Although the name centipede means '100 legs', the number of legs ranges from 15 to 191 pairs (always an odd number), with each pair of legs being attached to a separate body segment (Edgecombe 2001: 42). Temperate species range in length from 4 mm (in some Anopsobiinae) to 10 cm, and are generally dull in colouration, whereas tropical species may be very colourful and can reach a length of 30 cm. One pair of simple, segmented antennae is present on the head. Many species have ocelli (simple eyes), which are located along the rim of the cephalic plate, although other species have no eyes. Members of the Scutigeromorpha have compound eyes (Lewis 1981: 7; Mesibov 1986: 8).

Centipedes are predators. They feed on insects, snails, worms, other smaller centipedes, and sometimes feed on plants (Mesibov 1986: 6). Large centipedes may even prey on mice and lizards (Underhill 1991: 190; Edgecombe 2001: 44). The mouth parts consists of a labrum (upper lip), which is attached to the cephalic plate, a pair of mandibles (jaws) and the 1st and 2nd maxillae (which are two sets of modified legs). The 1st set of legs on the body of the animal are also modified to form poison claws (forcipules, or maxillipedes) which are found underneath the head (Lewis 1981: 1; Mesibov 1986: 8). The last (posterior) pair of legs are turned backward and are used for holding prey and fighting off predators (Underhill 1991: 190).

For identification of centipedes to species level, the mouthparts are vital, and many of the diagnostic features can only be seen when the mouthparts are dissected (Mesibov 1986: 8).

A cuticle, formed by a secretion produced by the epidermis, protects the centipede's body. This cuticle is present in the form of large tergite, sternite and pleurite plates along the dorsal and ventral surfaces and sides of the body, respectively, and the plates are separated by a membrane. A cephalic plate protects the dorsal surface of the head. As with the exoskeleton of insects, this armour is shed regularly as the animal grows. This cuticle is porous and allows rapid loss of moisture from the animal's body under drying conditions. To counter this, centipedes live in moist situations such as in rock crevices, in litter or under bark and come out only at night to hunt (Lewis 1981: 1; Mesibov 1986: 6; Underhill 1991: 190; Edgecombe 2001: 44). Centipedes have a wide range of natural enemies, including reptiles, birds and mammals (summarised by Lewis 1981: 353). Defensive strategies that centipedes have developed against predators are the shedding and subsequent regeneration of legs, the release of noxious secretions (by members of the Geophilomorpha), and the production of sticky threads by the final leg pair (in the Lithobiomorpha; Edgecombe 2001: 44).

Although centipedes are cosmopolitan, and can be found in many varied habitats, they are found mainly in temperate and subtropical regions, living alone among leaf litter, under bark, stones, in the soil or in any other moist microhabitat (Lewis 1981: 1; Hoffmann 1982: 681; Edgecombe 2001: 44).

Individual centipedes may live for at least three years (Lewis 1981: 320). All centipedes are oviparous, and fertilisation occurs, after an elaborate courtship, by the indirect transfer of a spermatophore to the female's genital opening. Depending on the species, eggs are generally laid in moist areas, such as under rocks or in crevices, either in clumps (3–86 eggs) or separately. The young may undergo complete development within the egg (epimorphic) or go through a number of moults after emergence from the egg (anamorphic), again, depending on the species (Hoffmann 1982: 681). There is little or no sexual dimorphism except for the gonopods and anal legs. Some centipedes are parthenogenetic, thus producing female clones (Edgecombe 2001: 44).

The Class Chilopoda is divided into five orders: Scutigeromorpha, Lithobiomorpha, Craterostigmomorpha, Scolopendromorpha and Geophilomorpha. (Lewis 1981: 425). All orders are represented in Australia.

Currently there are between 2500 (Hoffmann 1982: 681) and 3000 (Lewis 1981: 6) species of centipedes described worldwide, with one craterostigmomorph, 20 lithobiomorphs, 19 scutigeromorphs, 43 geophilomorphs and 45 scolopendromorphs (128 in total) described from Australia (this catalogue).

The largest species in Australia is Ethmostigmus rubripes (14 cm long) and the largest in the world is the South American species, Scolopendra gigantea (ca. 30 cm long). Both of these species are in the order Scolopendromorpha (Edgecombe 2001: 44).


We thank the following people for their help with this catalogue: Alice Wells and Melanie Kaebernick (Australian Biological Resources Study) provided editorial expertise and comments. Greg Edgecombe (Australian Museum Sydney) and Robert Mesibov (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston) answered numerous taxonomic and bibliographic queries, reviewed the entire text and corrected many errors. Any that remain are entirely the fault of the authors. Keith Houston (formerly of ABRS) gave assistance with 'Platypus' and 'Biolink' software programs. Finally, Dr. Mark Harvey (Western Australian Museum, Perth) provided various helpful bits of information along the way.

Limital Area

Distribution data in the Directory are by political and geographic region descriptors and serves as a guide to the distribution of a taxon. For details of a taxon's distribution, the reader should consult the cited references (if any) at genus and species levels.

Australia is defined as including Lord Howe Is., Norfolk Is., Cocos (Keeling) Ils, Christmas Is., Ashmore and Cartier Ils, Macquarie Is., Australian Antarctic Territory, Heard and McDonald Ils, and the waters associated with these land areas of Australian political responsibility. Political areas include the adjacent waters.

Terrestrial geographical terms are based on the drainage systems of continental Australia, while marine terms are self explanatory except as follows: the boundary between the coastal and oceanic zones is the 200 m contour; the Arafura Sea extends from Cape York to 124°E; and the boundary between the Tasman and Coral Seas is considered to be the latitude of Fraser Is., also regarded as the southern terminus of the Great Barrier Reef.

Distribution records, if any, outside of these areas are listed as extralimital. The distribution descriptors for each species are collated to genus level. Users are advised that extralimital distribution for some taxa may not be complete.



Centipede Key


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
12-Feb-2010 (import)