How Do Centipedes Move?

centipedes-move Credit: Terry L McCormick (Russellville AR USA)/Moment/Getty Images

Centipedes travel by moving both their legs and their bodies. Each individual leg engages in a cycle of moving forward, gripping the substrate, pulling the body forward and then lifting off the ground and moving forward again. At the same time, a centipede's body moves in an undulating manner, which helps increase the length of the arthropod’s stride and helps increase its speed.

Previously, scientists thought that the side-to-side movement of the centipede’s body was an unintended consequence of the leg movement, and that the body attempted to prevent lateral undulation. However, a 1995 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology showed that this view was wrong. Rather than seeking to prevent the side-to-side body movements by using the body’s axial muscles, centipedes send nerve impulses to these muscles that signal them to contract, which ultimately causes the undulating movements. When viewed from above, the legs of a centipede appear to move in a wave-like manner. This occurs because the animal’s legs are not synchronized; instead, they operate sequentially, in what is called metachronal rhythm.

One way to distinguish between millipedes and centipedes is by observing their method of locomotion. While centipedes move while laterally undulating their bodies, millipedes propel their bodies forward in a straight line.