Centipedes have banded bodies with one pair of legs on each band. Look at the centipede through the magnifying lens (loupe) below. They rarely have 100 legs as their name suggests. This one pictured has only 21 pairs of legs including the last pair (the anal legs) which is longer and thicker and can grasp prey or hold on tight to surfaces.

The business end of the centipede is the head where there is a pair of large jaws associated with a poison gland. This can inflict lethal injuries to its prey or a painful bite to a human hand. Most centipede bites are not severe and there is only localized pain which an ice pack will alleviate. But some people are particularly sensitive to centipede venom and have allergic reactions to it.

Dark-tipped jaws of a centipede found on the underside of the head.

Centipedes are solitary and carnivorous, actively hunting other soil animals during the night. They feed mainly on insects and, occasionally, on worms and slugs. Large centipedes can even catch lizards. They stab their prey with their jaws and inject venom into the hapless creature then use their jaws to chew the prey.

The bodies of centipedes are flattened so they can glide under rocks, logs and into cracks in the soil to hide from predators and to avoid light and dry conditions. When attacked by a predator or held by a leg, some can shed a leg and scuttle off while the disembodied leg lies twitching to distract the predator. The lost leg is regenerated again at the next moult of the centipede.

Some centipedes care for their eggs and newly hatched young for periods of several weeks. The mother curls herself around them, enclosing eggs or juvenile centipedes with her legs until they can fend for themselves.

Believe-it-or-not: Centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs. e.g. 21 pairs (42 legs).