Centipede vs. Millipede: What’s the Difference?

Centipede: photo courtesy www.commons.wikimedia.org; credit: Vaikoovery
North American millipede; photo courtesy of www.wikipedia.org; credit: Jud McCranie

If you’re like me, you’ve heard of centipedes and millipedes, and you know they have a lot of legs.  But what’s the difference in them?  Before we get to the differences, let’s note a few similarities.

Both centipedes and millipedes are considered arthropods.  In other words, they are invertebrates that have an exoskeleton and a segmented body.  They are related to scorpions, crabs, lobsters, and shrimp.  Both of these creatures also extend their body segments by molting.

So, if you see something with lots of legs crawling around, how do know which one it is?  Here’s some ways to tell the difference.

Known as “hundred leggers”; most common encountered have less than 31 pairs of legs
Known as “thousand leggers”; most have fewer than 100 pairs of legs
Flattened, elongated, exoskeletal body
Rounded, elongated, exoskeletal body
2 relatively long, segmented antennae that are sensors for feeling and smelling
2 comparatively short, segmented antennae along with sensory organs on head called Tomosvary organs
2 modified, venomous legs that is uses to capture and kill prey
No venomous legs
Single pair of legs on each trunk segment
2 pairs of legs per segment
Uses 2 modified legs on last segment and 2 modified venomous legs on first segment for defense
Uses glands to produce a hydrogen cyanide gas to discourage predators;  will also curl up when poked  
Long legs
Short legs
Moves quickly
Moves slowly
Predator-feeds on insects, spiders, birds, and reptiles
Scavenger and herbivore-feeds on decaying vegetation
Male deposits sperm bundles and female finds them and impregnates herself
Male and female join for mating
Can bite-bites can be painful, but not generally fatal to humans;  small children or people with allergies should be observed if bitten
Do not bite
Have their own class, Chilopoda-from the Greek;
“cheilos” meaning “lip” and “poda” meaning “foot”
In the class Diplopoda-from the Greek; meaning “double foot”

The better known species of centipede are the giant desert centipede, the banded desert centipede (or common desert centipede), and the house centipede.

Giant desert centipede; photo courtesy of John on www.wikipedia.org
Banded desert centipede; photo courtesy of www.matergardener.osu.edu
House centipede; this one was in my bathtub last summer!

From a distance, millipedes look more like worms until you can see their little legs.

North American millipede; photo credit: RJ Ferret; www.wikipedia.org
Millipede curled up; photo credit: Jud McCranie; www.wikipedia.org


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