Class Chilopoda (Centipedes) in the Christopher B. Smith Preserve

Chilopod Characteristics: A centipede is an elongated arthropod, with a rounded or flattened head, with a pair of antennae. At the base of the antennae, are organs that sense vibrations. An individual has 15 or more segments, each with one pair of legs. The legs of the first segment are modified into forcipules (venom claws), used to paralyze prey. Additional pairs of legs are slightly longer than the pair immediately in front of them. The final segment is a telson, which includes the openings of reproductive organs. Reproduction is achieved when a male deposits a spermatophore for a female to find and place with her eggs.

There are five orders of centipedes, separated by their structural changes during development, structural differences in their eyes (some have compound eyes, while others have only simple eyes), and number and placement of spiracles (openings that connect to a tracheal system for breathing). There are thought to be about 8,000 species of centipedes in the world; 3,000 have been described.

Centipedes are found in a wide variety of environments including Arctic locations, tropical rainforests, and deserts. Some live in caves, inside logs, in soil; and under leaf litter, dead wood, and stones. They require moist micro-habitats because they do not have waxy cuticles to prevent water loss from the skin, like insects and arachnids.

Interactions in the Smith Preserve: Centipedes are predators that eat a variety of other animals, mostly at night, and they are part of the diet of mice, lizards, beetles, snakes, and ants.

Species Name
Common Name
Geophilus mordax ?
Scolopendromorpha ?
Scolopendra sp. ?


Geophilus mordax ? ... Soil Centipede

On March 4, 2015, this 20 mm long centipede was found in leaf litter under Quercus geminata (Sand Live Oak) in a scrub area at the center of the Smith Preserve. It was isolated from the litter with a Berlese Funnel. These photographs were created using photomicroscopy.

Using an online key to centipede identification, the webmaster identified the genus as Geophilus. This identification was based on the number of legs and other body structures.

On March 13, 2015, the Order Geophilomorpha was confirmed by Ken Wolfemuth, Contributing Editor to <>, sponsored by Iowa State University Department of Entomology.

Geophilomorpha is the largest centipede order with 14 families worldwide (4 are in our area). Species range from 5 to 195 mm long, and have no eyes. They have 27 to 191 pairs of legs and 14-segmented antennae. The number of pairs of legs is always uneven. This individual has 61 pairs of legs.

Geophilomorpha species burrow in substrate, similarly to worms. They ingest larvae and worms.

On March 28, 2015, the genus identification Geophilus was confirmed by Joseph DeSisto, Contributing Editor to <>.

Photographs were taken of the pores on the coxae of the last pair of legs to help DeSisto identify the species. As shown in the photograph at left, the pores were scattered randomly all over the coxae. Based on the photographs, DeSisto stated, "if it is not a new species, it is almost certainly Geophilus mordax."


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Scolopendra sp. ? ... Tropical Centipede ?

The identification of this centipede species is unconfirmed, but it is suspected to be genus Scolopendra.

When photographed, this individual was living in a rotting log. As bark was peeled away from the log, only one photo could be taken before the individual escaped. Its head, which might have been used for identification, was buried. What can be seen in this photograph is that its body is flattened and reddish-brown. Its last pair of legs are rear-facing. It has long multi-segmented antennae and it appears to have at least 15 body segments, each with at least one spiracle. Note: This photograph shows only the right side of the individual. It can be inferred that there are matching spiracles on the left side of its body.

This centipede is fast-moving and its venom likely paralyzes insects and spiders.

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Unknown Species ... Juvenile Centipede ?

On January 23, 2017, this 2 mm long, soft-bodied arthropod with 8 or 9 pairs of legs was living in leaf litter beneath a Psychotria nervosa (Shinyleaf Wild Coffee) bush and a Quercus laurifolia (Laurel Oak) tree south of the Smith Preserve Pond near the eastern gopher tortoise fence.

It was isolated from the leaf litter using a Berlese funnel. Photographs were created using photomicroscopy.

Image 1 is a ventral view; Image 2 is a dorsal view; Image 3 is a ventrolateral view; Image 4 shows the head and antennae.

The images were sent for identification to <>, sponsored by Iowa State University’s Department of Entomology.

On April 4, 2017, this arthropod was identified as possibly a juvenile centipede by Ken Wolgemuth, a Contributing Editor to <>.

There are 5 orders and 15 families of centipedes.

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© Photographs and text by Susan Leach Snyder (Conservancy of Southwest Florida Volunteer), unless otherwise credited above.

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