Identification

Centipedes are long thin creatures which tend to move quite quickly. They have segmented bodies with one pair of legs in each segment. When a centipede hatches it only has seven pairs of legs but as it grows, its skin splits and a new skin appears, along with an extra set of legs. This continues until the centipede is fully-grown. They do not have 100 legs as the name suggests but most have many fewer, with the common centipede having 30 legs. However, some species have in excess of 300 legs. They have no eyes and so use their long antennae to navigate. Like insects they have a hard outer skeleton (exoskeleton) but their bodies do not have a waterproof layer to preserve their moisture and so during the day they remain in damp places.

Size

Commonly 2cm - 3cm in length.

Distribution

Widespread and common in Britain.

Status

There are 55 UK species, one of which is newly listed as a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Habitat preference

Woodlands, hedgerows and gardens.

Where to find them in the garden

A nocturnal creature which hunts invertebrates on the surface of the soil. During the day they rest under stones, logs, in cracks and can also be found in leaf litter and the compost heap. They are active all year. In order to mate, centipedes locate each other using pheromones which are released by the female. Single eggs are laid in the soil, which hatch into replicas of the adults but with fewer body segments and legs.

Role in the garden

Centipedes are carnivores, using their poison claws to eat their prey, including woodlice, spiders, worms and slugs and also the eggs of slugs and snails. Its main enemies are birds, ground beetles and other centipedes.