Reproductive biology

Most species have separate sexes, but some are partheno-genetic (female clones) throughout parts of their geographic range. Males have courtship rituals to entice the female to pick up a spermatophore, which is deposited on a web spun by the male in all centipedes, except Scutigeromorpha. A male initiates courtship, tapping the female's posterior legs with his antennae; this tapping ritual may last many hours. The female touches the web with the posterior end of her body so that the spermatophore lies against her genital opening or she picks up the sperm with her gonopods and deposits them in her genital atrium.

Single eggs are laid in Scutigeromorpha and Lithobio-morpha. Craterostimomorpha, Scolopendromorpha, and Geophilomorpha lay a group of 3-86 eggs that are protected by the mother, often in a hollow of a rotting log. Mothers hump their body around the egg cluster and the early hatch-ling instars in these three orders, ceasing feeding while brooding. Her grooming of the eggs seems to function to remove fungi. Eggs are camouflaged in soil, then abandoned in Scutigeromorpha and Lithobiomorpha.

Hatchlings have four pairs of legs in Scutigeromorpha, and six or seven pairs of legs in Lithobiomorpha; they are active from birth in those orders, and changes between subsequent instars are gradual. Hatchlings of Scolopendromorpha and Geophilomorpha have the adult number of legs. The first post-embryonic stages are incapable of hunting, and are brooded by the mother.

Breeding seasons vary for different species.

Conservation status

In general, centipede species have quite broad geographic distributions, and some are recorded from multiple continents. Many, however, are confined to narrower ranges, and some are known from single localities. A scolopendrid formerly collected in the Galápagos Islands may now be extinct. Introduced mammals and snakes on islands have decimated populations of some centipede species. Only one species (Scolopendra abnormis) is listed on the 2002 IUCN Red List; it is classified as Vulnerable.

Significance to humans

Centipedes have few uses to humans. Large Scolopendri-dae are used in the pet trade. Nearly all species are harmless to food crops and human goods (one species of geophilo-morph is thought to feed on root crops). They have no role in causing or spreading diseases.

All centipedes are venomous, but most small species are incapable of piercing human skin or their bites are no worse than a bee sting. Bites by large Scolopendridae are painful, but pain and swelling pass after hours to days. There have been very few human deaths from centipede bites.

House Centipede Bites Humans

1. Scolopender (Scolopendra morsitans); 2. Stone centipede (Lithobius forficatus); 3. House centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata); 4. Earth centipede (Pachymerium ferrugineum); 5. Tasmanian remarkable (Craterostigmus tasmanianus); 6. Blind scolopender (Cryptops hortensis). (Illustration by Barbara Duperron)

Blind scolopender

Cryptops hortensis

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