Contrary to what its name suggests, a centipede doesn’t actually have 100 legs. Rather the amount of legs varies from centipede species to centipede species - from as few as 15 pairs, to as many as 171. With that many legs on the go, does a centipedes ever find itself clumsily stepping on its own foot? Is it possible for the tiny creature to stub its "toe" (the tarsus)? We asked the experts.



Dr. David Lonsdale

Conservation Secretary of the Amateur Entomologists'


Unless there is something seriously wrong with a centipede, it would never trip over its own feet. There are thousands of species of centipede, all of which walk or run by means of a wave of leg movement along the length of the body, so that each leg moves in strict sequence. This wave of leg movement occurs in a modified form when a centipede slows down, speeds up, or starts walking. Even if it walks backwards (which some kinds of centipede can do), all the legs still move in strict sequence. This superb co-ordination might, however, be disrupted by damage affecting the nervous system of a centipede. Such damage, which could for example be caused by disease or a harmful chemical, might cause a centipede to trip.

With regard to the idea of stubbing a toe, I need to mention that centipedes do not have toes like ours. Thus, the question is whether they can stub the tips of their feet against obstructions. This generally does not happen, since a centipede finds a clear route by sensing the way ahead with its antennae and its other sense organs. The feet then just follow in sequence.


Centipedes are surprisingly speedy

The delicate legs of a house centipede enable it to reach surprising speeds of up to 0.4 meters per second (1.3 ft/s)running across floors, up walls and along ceilings.




Derek Hennen

Entomology Graduate Student from the University of Arkansas and member of the Entomological Society of Canada

Fun question! The walking motion of millipedes and centipedes have actually been studied for use in biomimicking robots.

Centipedes don't get stubbed toes--their legs end in a claw, so their "toe" (the tarsus) is protected. Sometimes the claw may get damaged, but it would sort of be like clipping your fingernail. It would be inconvenient if a large chunk of the claw were clipped off, but mostly, it's not a problem.

Centipedes are pretty adept at walking, so even if it's running quickly, it probably doesn't stumble over its own legs. Within each body segment of the centipede is a ganglion (plural ganglia), which is a mass of nerve cells. These ganglia act as small brains in each body segment and are connected to the brain in the centipede's head. When the centipede wants to walk, the brain sends a signal to the ganglia to initiate walking, which is translated into a wave-like movement of each legpair along the body. If you watch a centipede walk, you'll see that each leg moves after the one in front of it, and in this way, the centipede avoids tripping over itself!

Centipede facts

1.3 feet per second

is their top running speed

8,000 species

are estimated worldwide

2-5 years

is the average lifespan of centipede



Blake Newton

Extension Entomology Specialist at the University of Kentucky


Yes, when centipedes walk, their feet touch one another frequently, and they sometimes overlap, so you could say that they are stepping on their own feet. I don't think they can stub their toes though... they are very small and lightweight, so if they hit their toe against something it probably doesn't hurt. When humans stub our toes, it hurts because of the weight and force behind the impact. Centipedes are lightweight, and don't have to worry about such things as stubbed toes, or even falling a few feet.

Some species are
pretty big

Scolopendra gigantea, also known as the Amazonian giant centipede, is the largest existing species of centipede in the world, reaching over 30 cm (12 in) in length. It is known to eat lizards, frogs, birds, mice, and even bats, catching them in midflight, as well as rodents and spiders.




Dr. Steven L. Heydon

Curator and Collections Manager at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, researching the systematics of parasitic Hymenoptera and the Pteromalidae

The feet on centipedes and millipedes are built much different from ours.

Our feet sit flat on the ground so it is possible for one foot to step on the other. Centipede legs taper and they only touch the ground at the very tips.

Because of this construction, it is probably not possible for them to step on their own feet.




ILLUSTRATION: Yulia Goldman Additional sources: Animals, Wikipedia, About,