Identifying Bugs Around Your Garden and Backyard: Centipede or Millipede?

Edited by
Inga Cryton
Reading Time: 7 minutes.
Updated: .

Most people who have a backyard or garden know that bugs call those pleasant outdoor spaces home. Even people who simply spend time outside are familiar with most bugs they see from time to time. Very few can really tell the difference between similar bugs, especially when it comes to the smaller ones.

If you’re like most people, you can’t tell the difference between a centipede and a millipede. For backyard gardeners or people dealing with their own pest control, this can be an important difference. Curious minds may also want to know the difference.

Use this guide to learn more about the difference between a centipede and a millipede in your garden, backyard or in the wild.

What is the Difference?

Centipedes and millipedes are practically interchangeable for most people who haven’t studied bugs. The average homeowner for example probably couldn’t tell you a single difference between the two. There are some major differences between centipedes and millipedes though that can make the process of identifying them easier.

One main difference between centipedes and millipedes is in their diet. Centipedes are carnivores and tend to eat other smaller bugs and insects. Many people ask are centipedes poisonous, and the answer is that some are. Some have legs that contain a type of venom that helps them catch and kill their very small prey.

Millipedes on the other hand tend to eat decaying organic matter like rotting leaves and nutrients found within your soil. Unlike centipedes, millipedes tend to focus more on defense when it comes to pray. They’re likely to curl into a tight ball when confronted by a potential attacker, helping them defend themselves.

That doesn’t mean that picking up a millipede with your bare hands is a very wise idea though. They won’t bite you, but they can release a foul-smelling liquid to deter predators when they’re being attacked. This foul-smelling liquid can irritate your skin and linger for some time.

How to Identify Millipedes?

Millipedes belong to the class Diplopodia, which means that they have more rigidly structured bodies than centipedes. They also have a somewhat cylindrical shape, which is a major distinguishing feature for these bugs.

Millipede identifyThese bugs can range from less than one-half inch to over 14-inches in size. On average though, millipedes that you find in your garden or backyard are going to be between one-inch and five-inches in length at the most.

The millipede also has two sets of legs, though this can be hard to ascertain when you see a bug on the ground in your backyard or garden. Despite having those extra legs, millipedes tend to be considerably slower than centipedes, which are known for their speed.

Millipedes are also known to burrow in dirt or soil, creating very small holes in your soil areas.

How to Identify Centipedes?

Centipedes are arthropods, meaning that they belong to the class Chilopoda. This classification means that these bugs are flatter in shape and design, which is one way that they can be identified when compared to millipedes.

These bugs can be anywhere from one-inch to twelve-inches in length. In most household areas though, centipedes will be about three to five inches, with more mature adult centipedes being a bit longer.

Centipedes also have one pair of legs, which makes them different from millipedes as well. Unlike the millipede, centipedes are very fast, at least for small bugs.

Centipedes also have a tendency to live on plants, trees and in dirt areas. That’s different than the way millipedes burrow, which can help you identify what you have in your garden or backyard.

Centipede identify

Do Centipedes Bite?

A lot of people hear that centipedes are poisonous and wonder if they should stay away from them. There are a few different types of centipedes, and some of them do have a type of venom that can be problematic for their prey. The average house centipede isn’t going to bite a human or cause any harm to them though.

Amazonian giant centipedes can be a foot long!

In general, centipedes are not likely to attack a human and the type of venom that they use to catch extremely small prey usually won’t cause much of an adverse reaction. The only exception to that rule includes the Amazonian giant centipede, which can be up to a foot in length. You aren’t likely to encounter one of those outside of the jungle though!

It should be noted that small children and pets should be kept away from centipedes, as their smaller size may make them more susceptible to the venom that a centipede uses to catch their prey. An adverse reaction is still unlikely, but practicing caution is usually the best option when dealing with centipedes in your garden or backyard when it comes to kids and pets.

Handling centipedes in your garden is usually best done in a manner that protects your hands. Keeping heavy garden gloves, a small garden shovel and a cup or plastic container for identification can make the process easier as well.

Ways that Centipedes and Millipedes are Alike

Figuring out whether you have centipedes or millipedes in your garden or backyard can satisfy your curiosity and help you get rid of them in the case of an infestation.

There are some ways in which centipedes and millipedes are alike though:

  1. Centipedes and millipedes both have segmented bodies, which makes them look alike.
  2. They also belong to the same group called Myriapoda, and they breathe through what are known as spiracles.
  3. Both bugs are also free of organs designed for reproduction.
  4. Both centipedes and millipedes prefer a similar living environment that includes moist logs, trees, shrubbery and dirt. Living beneath large rocks or stones is also common for both of these creatures.

What Do Centipedes And Millipedes Look Like?

Centipedes And Millipedes Infographic

How to Tell the Difference

Mistaking a centipede for a millipede or vice versa is an easy mistake. After all, if you don’t know the basic differences, they look incredibly similar from the outside.

There are some main ways that you can tell the difference between a centipede and a millipede in your garden or outdoor area though:

  • Look at the overall shape of the bugs in your garden. Centipedes have long legs that extend from their bodies on both sides. Millipedes look more like worms with shorter legs that are more hidden beneath their bodies.
  • Note the length of the bugs in your garden or backyard. Centipedes tend to be longer and sleeker looking than millipedes, which have a more rounded, squat appearance.
  • Check the number of legs when you catch one or two bugs in your backyard or garden. Millipedes have two sets of legs, while centipedes only have one.
  • Note how quickly the bugs in your garden or backyard are moving. Centipedes may only have one set of legs, but they tend to move at a much faster rate than millipedes. Many people compare the speed of a fast-moving centipede to that of a spider, while the millipede moves more like an ant.
  • Watch the bugs and figure out if they are burrowing under the soil or dirt or not. Millipedes tend to burrow in soil, while centipedes typically live on leaves or out in the open.
  • What are they eating? It may take a while to figure out if you have centipedes or millipedes this way, but what they eat is a major tip-off. Millipedes are likely to be eating leaves and other organic matter in your backyard or garden. Centipedes are hunting for very small bugs and tend to avoid eating that same organic matter.

Millipede and centipede

Centipedes and millipedes are pretty much par for the course in your garden or backyard, but figuring out which one you have isn’t always obvious for homeowners. If you have small children or pets, those centipedes may also pose a risk, albeit a very small one!

Use these tips to figure out whether you have potentially problematic centipedes or harmless millipedes in your garden or backyard. Once you know the main differences, you should be able to spot them very quickly in any habitat.

You can find further details of Centipedes Control here.

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