James is afraid to offend the bugs, so he sets to work untangling the Centipede’s shoelaces. He murmurs quietly that the Centipede has lots of boots, so the Centipede announces he has 100 legs, 100 feet, and 100 boots. At this, the Earthworm cries that the Centipede is a liar—centipedes only have 42 legs, but most people take the Centipede at his word and don’t bother to count. The Earthworm says there’s nothing amazing about having so many legs, either. Conspiratorially, the Centipede whispers to James that the Earthworm is blind and therefore, isn’t aware of how dashing the Centipede looks. The Earthworm says it’s better to have no legs but still be able to walk. At this, the Centipede and the Earthworm argue about whether the Earthworm walks, glides, or slithers.
This passage begins to suggest that the bugs are adult figures, not children like James. This is why James decides he needs to help the Centipede with his boots when the Centipede asks, as the Centipede and his friends could be quite powerful. However, there are also indicators that these bugs, though adults, are sillier than any adults James has met in his life. The Centipede seems to take pleasure in riling up the Earthworm, while the Earthworm’s contrarian nature seems designed to make people laugh.
The argument ends when the Earthworm points out that he’s useful and beloved by gardeners, while the Centipede is a pest. The Centipede is proud to be a pest, so this doesn’t bother him. He notes that he’s the only pest present, aside from the Old-Green-Grasshopper—but the Old-Green-Grasshopper is too old to be much of a pest anymore. Scornfully, the Old-Green-Grasshopper says that he’s a musician, not a pest. The Centipede turns to James and asks if James has ever seen “such a marvelous colossal Centipede.” James hasn’t, and he asks how the Centipede got to be so big.
The Earthworm essentially proposes that for a person to be worthwhile, they need to do something good for the world. This is why he fixates on being a useful garden bug and calls the Centipede a pest, meaning an insect that feeds on crops or gardens. However, the Centipede makes the case that it’s enough to bring joy and light to people through comedy—with this, he positions himself as a different sort of pest, one who teases and jokes.
The Centipede explains that he was under the peach tree when a tiny green crystal wriggled past him. The Ladybug and Miss Spider shout that the same thing happened to them, while the Earthworm says he swallowed three crystals. Annoyed, the Centipede admonishes his companions for interrupting his story. The Old-Green-Grasshopper says it’s too late for stories anyway, since it’s about bedtime. James has only undone 20 of the Centipede’s boots, so the Centipede announces that there are 80 to go. At this, the Earthworm shrieks that the Centipede is lying—the Centipede only has another 22 boots. When the Ladybug warns the Centipede to not pull the Earthworm’s leg, the Centipede dissolves in laughter. James decides he likes the Centipede. The Centipede is a “rascal,” but it’s nice to hear laughter. The Old-Green-Grasshopper asks Miss Spider to make some beds.
Even if some of these adults are sillier than James’s aunts, that doesn’t mean they don’t still have a schedule and rules. This is why the Old-Green-Grasshopper sets about sending everyone to bed. However, it does probably defy James’s expectations to find bugs so concerned about getting to bed on time. As James learns these things, he begins to see that it’s fruitless to make assumptions about people. This is especially true as he comes to like the Centipede. The Centipede may have been frightening at first, but he’s not scary anymore—he’s delightful and shows James that there’s far more to life than Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge wanted him to think.