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Temporal range: Pridoli–Present
Myriapod collage.png
Representatives of the four extant myriapod classes. Clockwise from top left: Chilopoda, Diplopoda, Symphyla, and Pauropoda.
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Myriapoda
Latreille, 1802
Classes [1]

Myriapoda (Ancient Greek myria- (μυρίος "ten thousand") + pous (πούς "foot") is a subphylum of arthropods containing millipedes, centipedes, and others. The group contains over 16,000 species, most of which are terrestrial. [2] Although their name suggests they have myriad (10,000) legs, myriapods range from having up to 750 legs (the millipede Illacme plenipes ) [3] to having fewer than ten legs.


The fossil record of myriapods reaches back into the late Silurian, although molecular evidence suggests a diversification in the Cambrian Period, [4] and Cambrian fossils exist which resemble myriapods. [2] The oldest unequivocal myriapod fossil is of the millipede Pneumodesmus newmani , from the late Silurian (428 million years ago). P. newmani is also important as the earliest known terrestrial animal. [5] [6] The phylogenetic classification of myriapods is still debated.

The scientific study of myriapods is myriapodology, and those who study myriapods are myriapodologists. [7]


The head of Scutigera coleoptrata, showing antennae, compound eyes and mouthparts HouseCentipedeCloseup.jpg
The head of Scutigera coleoptrata , showing antennae, compound eyes and mouthparts

Myriapods have a single pair of antennae and, in most cases, simple eyes. Exceptions include the large and well-developed compound eyes of Scutigera [8] The mouthparts lie on the underside of the head, with an "epistome" and labrum forming the upper lip, and a pair of maxillae forming the lower lip. A pair of mandibles lie inside the mouth. Myriapods breathe through spiracles that connect to a tracheal system similar to that of insects. There is a long tubular heart that extends through much of the body, but usually few, if any, blood vessels. [9]

Malpighian tubules excrete nitrogenous waste into the digestive system, which typically consists of a simple tube. Although the ventral nerve cord has a ganglion in each segment, the brain is relatively poorly developed. [9]

During mating, male myriapods produce a packet of sperm, or spermatophore, which they must transfer to the female externally; this process is often complex and highly developed. The female lays eggs which hatch as much-shortened versions of the adults, with only a few segments and as few as three pairs of legs. With the exception of the two centipede orders Scolopendromorpha and Geophilomorpha, which have epimorphic development (all body segments are formed segments embryonically), the young add additional segments and limbs as they repeatedly moult to reach the adult form. [9]

The process of adding new segments during postembryonic growth is known as anamorphosis, of which there are three types: euanamorphosis, emianamorphosis, and teloanamorphosis. In euanamorphosis, every moult is followed by addition of new segments, even after reaching sexual maturity; in emianamorphosis, new segments are added until a certain stage, and further moults happen without addition of segments; and in teloanamorphosis, where the addition of new segments stops after the adult form is reached, after no further moults occur. [10]


Myriapods are most abundant in moist forests, where they fulfill an important role in breaking down decaying plant material, [2] although a few live in grasslands, semi-arid habitats or even deserts. [11] A very small percentage of species are littoral (found along the sea shore). [12] [13] The majority are detritivorous, with the exception of centipedes, which are chiefly nocturnal predators. A few species of centipedes and millipedes are able to produce light and are therefore bioluminescent [14] Pauropodans and symphylans are small, sometimes microscopic animals that resemble centipedes superficially and live in soils. Millipedes differ from the other groups in having their body segments fused into pairs, giving the appearance that each segment bears two pairs of legs, while the other three groups have a single pair of legs on each body segment.

Although not generally considered dangerous to humans, many millipedes produce noxious secretions (often containing benzoquinones) which in rare cases can cause temporary blistering and discolouration of the skin. [15] Large centipedes, however, can bite humans, and although the bite may cause intense pain and discomfort, fatalities are extremely rare. [16]


There has been much debate as to which arthropod group is most closely related to the Myriapoda. [17] Under the Mandibulata hypothesis, Myriapoda is the sister taxon to Pancrustacea, a group comprising the Crustacea and Hexapoda (insects and their close relatives). Under the Atelocerata hypothesis, Hexapoda is the closest, whereas under the Paradoxopoda hypothesis, Chelicerata is the closest. This last hypothesis, although supported by few, if any, morphological characters, is supported by a number of molecular studies. [18] A 2020 study found numerous characters of the eye and preoral region suggesting that the closest relatives to crown myriapods are the extinct Euthycarcinoids. [19] There are four classes of extant myriapods, Chilopoda (centipedes), Diplopoda, Pauropoda and Symphyla, containing a total of around 12,000 species. [20] While each of these groups of myriapods is believed to be monophyletic, relationships among them are less certain. [21]


Scolopendra cingulata, a centipede Scolopendra fg01.JPG
Scolopendra cingulata , a centipede

Centipedes make up the class Chilopoda. They are fast, predatory and venomous, hunting mostly at night. There are around 3,300 species, [20] ranging from the diminutive Nannarrup hoffmani (less than 12 mm or 12 in in length) [22] to the giant Scolopendra gigantea , which may exceed 30 centimetres (12 in).


Tachypodoiulus niger, a millipede Tachypodoiulus niger 1.jpg
Tachypodoiulus niger , a millipede

Millipedes form the class Diplopoda. Most millipedes are slower than centipedes, and feed on leaf litter and detritus. They are distinguished by the fusion of each pair of body segments into a single unit, giving the appearance of having two pairs of legs per segment. Around 12,000 species have been described, which may represent less than a tenth of the true global millipede diversity. [20] The name "millipede" is a compound word formed from the Latin roots millia ("thousand") and pes (gen. pedis) ("foot"), although millipedes typically have between 36 and 400 legs. One species, Illacme plenipes , has the greatest number of legs of any animal, with 750. [3] Pill millipedes are much shorter, and are capable of rolling up into a ball, like pillbugs.


Scutigerella immaculata, a symphylan Scutigerella immaculata male.jpg
Scutigerella immaculata , a symphylan

About 200 species of them are known worldwide. [20] They resemble centipedes but are smaller and translucent. Many spend their lives as soil infauna, but some live arboreally. Juveniles have six pairs of legs, but, over a lifetime of several years, add an additional pair at each moult so that the adult instar has twelve pairs of legs. [23]


Pauropus huyxleyi, a pauropodan Pauropus huxleyi.jpg
Pauropus huyxleyi , a pauropodan

Pauropoda is another small group of small myriapods. They are typically 0.5–2.0 mm long and live in the soil on all continents except Antarctica. [24] Over 700 species have been described. [20] They are believed to be the sister group to millipedes, and have the dorsal tergites fused across pairs of segments, similar to the more complete fusion of segments seen in millipedes. [25]


Arthropleurideans were ancient myriapods that are now extinct, known from the late Silurian to the Permian. The most famous members are from the genus Arthropleura , which was a giant, probably herbivorous, animal that could be up to 3 metres (10 ft) long, but the group also includes species less than 1 cm (0.39 in). Arthropleuridea was historically considered a distinct class of myriapods, but since 2000 scientific consensus has viewed the group as a subset of millipedes, although the relationship of arthropleurideans to other millipedes and to each other is debated. [26] [27]

Myriapod relationships

Some of the various hypotheses of myriapod phylogeny. Morphological studies (trees a and b) support a sister grouping of Diplopoda and Pauropoda, while studies of DNA or amino acid similarities suggest a variety of different relationships, including the relationship of Pauropoda and Symphyla in tree c. Various myriapod phylogenies.png
Some of the various hypotheses of myriapod phylogeny. Morphological studies (trees a and b) support a sister grouping of Diplopoda and Pauropoda, while studies of DNA or amino acid similarities suggest a variety of different relationships, including the relationship of Pauropoda and Symphyla in tree c.

A variety of groupings (clades) of the myriapod classes have been proposed, and married, some of which are mutually exclusive, and all of which represent hypotheses of evolutionary relationships. Traditional relationships supported by morphological similarities (anatomical or developmental similarities) are challenged by newer relationships supported by molecular evidence (including DNA sequence and amino acid similarities). [28] [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Arachnid Class of arthropods

Arachnida is a class of joint-legged invertebrate animals (arthropods), in the subphylum Chelicerata. Arachnida includes orders containing spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites, harvestmen, and solifuges. In 2019, a molecular phylogenetic study also placed horseshoe crabs in Arachnida.

Millipede Class of arthropods

Millipedes are a group of arthropods that are characterised by having two pairs of jointed legs on most body segments; they are known scientifically as the class Diplopoda, the name being derived from this feature. Each double-legged segment is a result of two single segments fused together. Most millipedes have very elongated cylindrical or flattened bodies with more than 20 segments, while pill millipedes are shorter and can roll into a ball. Although the name "millipede" derives from the Latin for "thousand feet", no known species has 1,000; the record of 750 legs belongs to Illacme plenipes. There are approximately 12,000 named species classified into 16 orders and around 140 families, making Diplopoda the largest class of myriapods, an arthropod group which also includes centipedes and other multi-legged creatures.

Centipede Many-legged arthropods with elongated bodies

Centipedes are predatory arthropods belonging to the class Chilopoda of the subphylum Myriapoda, an arthropod group which also includes millipedes and other multi-legged creatures. Centipedes are elongated metameric creatures with one pair of legs per body segment. Most centipedes are generally venomous and can inflict painful bites, injecting their venom through pincer-like appendages known as forcipules. Despite the name, centipedes can have a varying number of legs, ranging from 30 to 354. Centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs. Therefore, no centipede has exactly 100 legs. Like spiders and scorpions, centipedes are predominantly carnivorous.

Pauropoda Class of arthropods

Pauropods are small, pale, millipede-like arthropods. Around 830 species in twelve families are found worldwide, living in soil and leaf mould. They look rather like centipedes, but are probably the sister group to millipedes.

Symphyla Class of many-legged arthropods

Symphylans, also known as garden centipedes or pseudocentipedes, are soil-dwelling arthropods of the class Symphyla in the subphylum Myriapoda. Symphylans resemble centipedes, but are very small, non-venomous, and only distantly related to both centipedes and millipedes. They can move rapidly through the pores between soil particles, and are typically found from the surface down to a depth of about 50 centimetres (20 in). They consume decaying vegetation, but can do considerable harm in an agricultural setting by consuming seeds, roots, and root hairs in cultivated soil.

Chilognatha Subclass of millipedes

Chilognatha is a subclass of the class Diplopoda, which includes the vast majority of extant millipede, about 12,000 species.

Arthropleuridea Extinct subclass of millipedes

Arthropleuridea is an extinct subclass of myriapod arthropods that flourished during the Carboniferous period, having first arose during the Silurian, and perishing due to climate change just before the Early Permian. Members are characterized by possessing diplosegement paranotal tergal lobes separated from the body axis by a suture, and by sclerotized plates buttressing the leg insertions. Despite their unique features, recent phylogenetic research suggests Arthropleuridea be included among millipedes in the class Diplopoda. The subclass contains three recognized orders, each with a single genus.

Euphoberia is an extinct genus of millipede from the Pennsylvanian epoch of the Late Carboniferous, measuring up to 30 centimetres (12 in) in length. Fossils have been found in Europe and North America.

Glomerida Order of millipedes

Glomerida is an order of pill-millipedes found primarily in the Northern Hemisphere. They superficially resemble pill-bugs or woodlice, and can enroll into a protective ball. They have twelve body segments, 17 to 19 pairs of legs, and males have enlarged rear legs involved in mating. The order includes about 30 genera and at least 280 species, including Glomeris marginata, the common European pill-millipede. The order contains members in Europe, South-east Asia and the Americas from California to Guatemala. Although historically considered closely related with the similar sphaerotheriidans that also enroll, some DNA evidence suggest they may be more closely related to glomeridesmidans, a poorly known order that does not enroll.

The Myriochelata or Paradoxopoda, is a proposed grouping of arthropods comprising the Myriapoda and Chelicerata. If this proposition holds true, the Myriochelata are the sister clade to the Pancrustacea, comprising classic crustaceans and hexapods.

Arthropod Phylum of invertebrates with jointed exoskeletons

An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and paired jointed appendages. Arthropods form the phylum Euarthropoda, which includes insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. The term Arthropoda as originally proposed refers to a proposed grouping of Euarthropods and the phylum Onychophora.

Myriapodology is the scientific study of myriapods which includes centipedes and millipedes. The field of myriapodology can also cover other myriapods such as pauropods and symphylans. Those who study myriapods are myriapodologists.

Tactopoda Group of ecdysozoan animals

Tactopoda is a proposed clade of protostome animals that includes the phyla Tardigrada and Euarthropoda, supported by various morphological observations.

Polyxenida Order of millipedes

Polyxenida is an order of millipedes readily distinguished by a unique body plan consisting of a soft, non-calcified body ornamented with tufts of bristles – traits that have inspired the common names "bristly millipedes" or "pincushion millipedes". There are at least 86 species in four families worldwide, and are the only living members of the subclass Penicillata.

Archipolypoda Extinct group of millipedes

Archipolypoda is an extinct group of millipedes known from fossils in Europe and North America and containing the earliest known land animals. The Archipolypoda was erected by Scudder (1882) but redefined in 2005 with the description of several new species from Scotland. Distinguishing characteristics include relatively large eyes with densely packed ocelli, and modified leg pairs on the 8th body ring. Some species had prominent spines while others had a flattened appearance.

<i>Siphoniulus</i> Genus of millipedes

Siphoniulus is a poorly known genus of millipede containing only two living species: S. alba from Indonesia, and S. neotropicus from Mexico and Guatemala. An additional two fossil species are known from Cretaceous amber. Siphoniulus species are the only members of the family Siphoniulidae and order Siphoniulida, making Siphoniulida the smallest millipede order. Few specimens are known, and their classification is contentious, although most recent studies place them as basal members of the Helminthomorpha.

Dendrothereua is a genus of house centipedes in the family Scutigeridae. There are at least three described species in Dendrothereua, found in the southern United States and the Neotropics.

<i>Scolopocryptops</i> Genus of centipedes

Scolopocryptops is a genus of bark centipedes in the family Scolopocryptopidae. There are at least 20 described species in Scolopocryptops.

<i>Kampecaris</i> Extinct genus of myriapod

Kampecaris is an extinct genus comprising the Kampecarida, an enigmatic group of millipede-like arthropods, from the Silurian and early Devonian periods of Scotland and England. They are among the oldest known land-dwelling animals. They were small, short-bodied animals with three recognizable sections: an oval head divided along the midline, ten limb-bearing segments forming a cylindrical trunk that tapered slightly towards the front, and a characteristic swollen tail formed by a modified segment that tapers at its rear into an "anal segment". The cuticle forming their exoskeletons was thick, heavily calcified, and composed of two layers.


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