Centipedes are usually brownish, flattened, and elongate animals, which have many body segments. One pair of legs is attached to most of these body segments. They differ from millipedes in that millipedes have two pair of legs on most segments and bodies, which are not flattened.
Centipedes range in length from 1 to 6 inches and can run very rapidly. Centipedes do not damage food supplies or household furnishings. Since they eat insects, spiders and other arthropods, they are beneficial.
Centipedes are predators, and mainly use their antennae to seek out their prey. The digestive tract forms a simple tube, with digestive glands attached to the mouthparts. Like insects, centipedes breath through a tracheal system, typically with a single opening, or spiracle on each body segment.
The American house centipede, hatches with only 4 pairs of legs and in successive molts has 5, 7, 9, 11, 15, 15, 15 and 15 pairs of legs are called larval stadia. After the full complement of legs is achieved, the now post-larval stadia develop gonopods, sensory pores, more antennal segments, and more ocelli.
Centipedes are a predominantly predatory taxon. They are generalist predaros, which means that they have adapted to eat a variety of different avaiable prey. Examination of centipede gut contents suggest that plant material is an unimportant part of their diet although centipedes have been observed to eat vegetable matter when starved during laboratory experiments.
Some species of centipede can be hazardous to humans because of their bite. Although a bite to an adult human is usually very painful and may cause severe swelling, chills, fever, and weakness, it is unlikely to be fatal. Bites can be dangerous to small children and those with allergies to bee stings.