Wondering About Centipedes? Information on What They Are and What Types They Come In

Edited by
Inga Cryton
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Centipedes are insects that are typically long with many legs. Although most people associate these venomous arthropods with 100 legs, the truth is that every different type of them have odd numbers of them, having one per body segment. And depending on which centipedes we’re talking about, there is a large range of how many legs they have and how long they get. There are also different kinds in different places of your home and yard, as well as varying types depending on the climate and location in the world. Most of all, centipedes are far more interesting than you might think.

So what is a centipede? Does it have 100 feet as its name suggests? What does it eat and where does it nest? This informative article will answer all the burning questions you may have about centipedes. Read on to learn more.

Identification

The centipede is one of the oldest animals on Earth, having been found in fossils dating more than 400 million years ago. They’re infamous for their aggressiveness and creepy appearance. However, most people don’t know much about these crawling little creatures with multiple sets of legs.

Centipedes are sometimes referred to as the “hundred-leggers” because of their numerous legs, which run the length of their bodies. They’re flexible and make swift, darting movements.

How can you differentiate centipedes from other many-legged creatures? Here’s a look at their notable features.

What Does a Centipede Look Like?

Most common centipede species are grayish to reddish-brown in color. Some tropical species have a bright red, blue, or orange body color whereas others, especially the subterranean ones, don’t have a specific color due to lack of pigmentation.

Other features of the centipede include:

  • Long, flattened, segmented body.
  • One pair of jointed legs on each segment.
  • A pair of long antennae on its head.
  • A pair of large, claw-like structures just beneath the head.

Centipede anatomy

Millipedes closely resemble centipedes. Both have wormlike bodies and many legs. 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 Between a Centipede and a Millipede

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

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.

Habitat

The exoskeletons of centipedes lack the waxy layer that would help them retain moisture. For that reason, centipedes favor damp environments where humidity is high. Centipedes have adapted well to a variety of climates and habitats. They can be found worldwide, and some have even been spotted living in the Arctic Circle. Centipedes are generally found in moist and protected habitats like under rocks, piles of leaves, barks, in crevices in damp soils, and occasionally in rotting wood and burrows.

Indoors

Penetration into the houseCentipedes can enter houses and buildings through cracks and holes in foundation walls or by crawling under doors. They’re most commonly seen indoors during spring and summer. They can also be spotted in homes in the winter, but they’re less common.

They like hiding in damp basements, bathrooms, basements, closets, and crawlspaces. They can also hide under carpet edges and in cracks and crevices in your walls.

Diet

Centipede eating bugCentipedes are carnivorous and are therefore pure meat-eaters. They’re primarily hunters, although some occasionally scavenge a meal.

The centipede uses venom to kill its prey. This venom comes from glands located immediately beneath the centipede’s head. Its front pair of legs, which are known as forcipules, connect to these glands. The centipede uses its forcipules to pierce its prey’s skin and inject venom into the wound. This paralyzes the prey.

What about Household Pests

While not many homeowners are willing to share their dwellings with centipedes, these many-booted crawlers are considered to be among the most advantageous creatures that inhabit homes. That’s because they feed on household pests. They don’t damage food or furniture.

Some of the pests that house centipedes prey on are: bedbugs, spiders, silverfish, cockroaches, houseflies, termites.

Centipede predators
Centipedes make a delicious meal for birds, frogs, toads, and small mammals like mice and shrews.
They protect themselves from their predators with their venom, ability to stay hidden, and speed.

All centipede species have venomous claws, which they use to incapacitate their prey. This fact leads to the question: Do centipedes bite? Get the answer in this article.

The Different Species of Centipedes

Little do most people know that centipedes don’t just come in one type. Even though the typical centipede you might think of is long and brown with a hundred legs, the truth is that their varieties are much more diverse.

Centipedes in Your House

  • Scutigera coleoptrata: This is commonly referred to as the house centipede. It is yellow-ish gray and usually has no more than 15 pairs of legs. As a carnivore, it eats other insects like arthropods and arachnids. Its legs are very long and almost spider-like all up and down its body. As a result, it can sometimes be hard to be able to tell its head from its tail.
    Scutigera coleoptrata
  • Bathroom centipede: Centipedes like moist places, such as a bathroom, so it’s common to spot them there. And not only can these pests climb up through drainpipes, but they can also crawl straight through the water as well. If you’re finding centipedes in your bathroom, check your plumbing to see where the creatures could have possibly slipped through.

    There are approximately 8,000 species of centipedes throughout the world.
  • Centipedes in your bed: It could terrify to know that yes, centipedes can make it into your bed. They have the ability to crawl up the legs of your bed and into your sheets without any kind of problem whatsoever. But why would they go there? Sometimes, they just get lost and end up in the bed, but many times they’re hunting for food. Maybe you have bedbugs and the centipedes are there to eat them up. Or maybe there’s food left in your bed that the critters can smell. Even though they prefer insects to human food, centipedes do get curious about the scents that come from what we eat.
  • Garden centipede: You’ll easily find centipedes in your garden, as the outdoors are where the insects like to hunt. Look underneath rocks or pieces of wood, where the pests like to hide. Because centipedes don’t eat plants, they won’t bother your gardening or vegetation, and can actually help free your yard from the insects that might do damage.
    Garden centipede
  • Basement centipede: Centipedes like dark environments, which makes a basement a great place for them to be. They can get in through outlets and tiny cracks in between windows or doors.

Stone Centipedes

Known scientifically as Lithobius, the stone centipede is brown and can get up to 2 inches long. They typically have around 15 pairs of legs. You’ll find them active at night, hunting outside for insects to kill and eat.

Stone centipede

Soil Centipedes

These are long and flatter, having at least 27 pairs of legs and several inches of body length. They get their name from the way they like to burrow in the soil like an earthworm, although you can find them aboveground underneath logs and rocks.

Soil centipede

Aquatic Centipede

Known as the “waterfall centipede, ” this species was found by accident in Thailand. One it scurried into the water, scientists watched it swim like an eel in the way it moved its body. It is hypothesized that the aquatic centipede goes hunting for small amphibious creatures once in the water.

Waterfall amphibious centipede

Flying Centipedes

Although centipedes can’t fly, there is a species in Africa that looks it might be able to. Alipes has projections on its back legs that look almost like wings. But don’t worry, just like all centipedes, this one stays on the ground.

There’s always a chance you could get bitten by a centipede if you come in contact with one. Even though they are poisonous, their venom isn’t strong enough to kill a human. However, if you get bitten by one (especially large ones), there may be pain and swelling. Use ice and anti-inflammatories to combat this, and contact a medical professional if you experience any kind of allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing.

Centipedes deliver a nasty bite to their prey, paralyzing it quickly. But how would it affect a human? Go here for more details about are centipedes poisonous.

Giant Centipedes of the Desert

While some centipedes are very small, others are not. Although the following isn’t abnormally huge, there are several larger-than-average centipedes you’ll find in various habitats, including the desert:

  • Tiger centipede,
  • Green striped centipede,
  • Blue tree centipede,
  • Common desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha).

Giant Desert Centipede

Giant Desert Centipede

Red-Headed Centipede

Scolophendra Heros, sometimes known as the Texas red-headed centipede, lives predominantly in the southwestern part of the United States and Northern Mexico, even spanning as far East as Arkansas. It varies in color from reddish brown to tan, to black, and likes to come out when it’s dark outside. As for size, the giant desert centipede averages 6.5 inches in length and can get up to 8 inches. Another interesting fact is that this centipede’s head looks just like its tail, a feature that helps them survive a surprise attack. If a predator picks the wrong end and bites the tail, they’ll receive quite a surprise bite.

A centipede’s potent venom works quickly on its prey.

Its venom is made up of a neurotoxin that paralyzes its prey. But don’t worry – humans can’t be killed or seriously injured by this centipede, although it would probably hurt and cause redness and swelling.

Giant Redheaded Centipede

Giant Redheaded Centipede

Centipedes Come in All Different Colors

With different types of centipedes come different colors.

Some examples you may see include:

  • Brown: The house centipede, bark centipede, and brown centipede.
  • White: Garden symphyla centipede.
  • Green: Green centipede (Hemiscolopendra Marginate).
  • Gray: Some house centipedes.
  • Silver: Centipedes typically aren’t all silver, but various species may have silver striping or banding on them.
  • Brightly colored: Tiger centipede, Vietnamese giant centipede, cherry red centipede.
  • Black with yellow legs: Black and yellow centipede (Apheloria Montana), some giant red-headed centipedes.

Do centipedes sting with a stinger like a bee or do they bite? These creatures are deadly to insects and use their tiny mouths to do it. For more information about do centipedes bite, click here.

How They Blend In

Life-forms of all types have evolved to blend into their environment, including everything from insects, to reptiles, to plants. Iguanas and stonefish are good examples of this. And centipedes are no different, coming in a range of colors to suit their environment.

For example, the brown centipede enjoys hiding in the dirt and under logs. Because these are also brown, the pest will be harder to spot. This helps them not only hide from predators but also to hide from prey, allowing them to sneak up on their victim more easily.

If you’re experiencing problems with pests like ants, crickets, or spiders in your yard, it is beneficial to have centipedes living there as well. These small insects are prey for centipedes and will be hunted down as food. As long as the centipede population remains in control and they don’t invade your home, they can be a good bug to have on your property.

Warning Colors

Another interesting fact about the animal kingdom is the colors that some species display as a warning, otherwise known as aposematism. Examples of animals that use this evolutionary defense are tree frogs, the cuttlefish, skunks, and some beetles, to name a few. Sometimes the colors are bright, and sometimes they are simply contrasting, communicating to possible prey their commanding presence.

Tiger Centipede
(Scolopendra polymorpha)

Tiger Centipede

With centipedes, there are some types that use aposematism to ward off predators. The Milne bay centipede is orange and black with bright blue legs. The tiger centipede, with its bright orange body and black legs, communicates to predators that they better stay away.

As far as bugs are concerned, centipedes are an interesting bunch. Coming in a huge range of types, they live all over the world and are quite diverse when it comes to size and color. And although some of them do bite people if they feel threatened, there’s no need to worry about your safety. In fact, these creatures will eat the other bugs invading your home or yard and get rid of them for you. So the next time you think of a scary-looking centipede, try and remember how unique all the different types are, and you might see them in a different way.

How Do Centipedes Reproduce?

Centipedes are naturally solitary, and their sexual activity doesn’t involve copulation.

Their reproductive cycle involves certain rituals:

  • The females release pheromones to attract males.
  • The males weave a small web and deposit a spermatophore (mass or capsule that contains spermatozoa) for the females to absorb.
  • The males may leave the spermatophore for the females to find or may bring it to her attention through a courtship dance. The dance usually involves the male tapping the female’s posterior legs using his antennae.
  • The females take in the webs and fertilize the ova within their bodies.

Centipedes reproducing

Female centipedes lay 15 to 60 eggs. They usually deposit the eggs in holes made in the soil or hollows of rotting logs. The eggs are coated with a sticky substance for protection.

Mating season usually occurs during the spring and summer.

While some species leave their eggs to develop on their own, others take care of them and the young ones. The latter protects the hatchlings until they’ve molted once or twice. They wrap their bodies around their brood to protect them. However, if the mothers are gravely threatened during this period, they may eat the eggs rather than let the intruder do so.

Stages of Development

Centipede and eggsCentipedes basically go through two development stages: egg and small adult. When centipedes hatch from the eggs, they look like miniature adults.

In most species, the newly hatched centipedes have a fewer pair of legs than the fully-grown adults. To grow, they shed their skin in a process called molting. They gain additional body segments and leg pairs each time they molt.

Upon hatching, the young of the Geophilomorphae and Scolopendromorphae carry a complete set of legs.

Do You Know These Facts About the House Centipede?

The most common species of centipede encountered indoors is the house centipede. It can live its whole life inside a building.

This fast-moving centipede can travel on floors, walls, and ceilings.

Record Breaker
The house centipede made it to the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest arthropod in the world. It was clocked at 16 inches per second.
A house centipede scaled up to human size would run at 39 miles per hour.

House centipedes have a fuzzy look thanks to their thin legs and long antennae that are often longer than their body length. They’re generally considered harmless to people.

House Centipedes

House Centipedes

Here are other facts you should know about the house centipede:

  • Appearance: The adult house centipede has 15 pairs of very long, jointed legs. It’s about 1 to 1.5 inches long. Its body is brownish to grayish-yellow with three dark stripes visible from above.
  • Diet: This centipede feeds on pests inside your home such as ants, cockroaches, spiders, bedbugs, termites, silverfish, and carpet beetles.
  • Habitat: House centipedes prefer cool, damp locations such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, crawlspaces, and below the bark of firewood kept indoors.
  • Habits: House centipedes have gradual metamorphosis, so the immature ones and the adults have similar appearances. All the life stages can be seen dashing across floors or trapped in sinks, lavatories, and bathtubs. The house centipede usually forages for food at night.
  • Threat: Although a house centipede can bite, its jaws are quite small. It prefers running away to biting humans. In case it bites, it causes nothing more than a slight swelling or temporary, localized pain.

The centipede looks scarier than it actually is. Most likely, you’ve come across one and have been frightened or disgusted by it. Now that you have a wealth of knowledge on it including its habits and food sources, you can accept it as your ally because it can help you rid your home of pests.

However, if you don’t want centipedes anywhere near your home, you can take a step toward controlling them by eliminating their food sources.

Questions & Answers

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.

TipCentipedes
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.
Are Centipedes Insects?

Centipedes are mistaken for insects due to their multiple legs and long skinny bodies. They're not insects; they are arthropods.

To be considered an arthropod, an animal must have a segmented body, jointed appendages, and be an invertebrate with an external skeleton (exoskeleton). The centipede's body is covered in a hard, flexible exoskeleton that's made of protein and chitin – a tough polysaccharide.

Do Centipedes Have 100 Legs?

The word centipede is derived from the Latin language: the prefix centi- that means "hundred" and pedis meaning "foot." Because of the name, many people assume that a centipede has 100 legs.

Centipedes never have exactly 100 legs.

The number of leg pairs in all centipede species is always odd. The total number of feet on the centipede varies from one species to another. It can have as few as 15 leg pairs or as many as 191 leg pairs.

What Do Centipedes Eat?

Centipedes mainly prey on: insects, small arthropods, annelids, mollusks, and other small invertebrates.

The larger species of centipedes have been known to feed on small mammals and reptiles.

How Big Do Centipedes Get?

The long centipedeWhile insects complete their growth once they reach adulthood, centipedes carry on with molting as adults. Their body size varies from species to species. It can reach anywhere from 0.1 to 12 inches in length.

The most common centipedes are usually a few inches long. The largest existing centipede species is the Amazonian giant centipede. It can reach over 12 inches in length. The biggest centipede to have ever existed was the prehistoric Euphoberia, which grew up to 39 inches (one meter) long.

Centipedes are long-lived critters in comparison to many other arthropods, which live for one year or less. Most centipedes live for over a year. Some live as long as 6 years.

You can find further details of Centipedes Control here.

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I have been working on pest extermination information for a long time and am excited to share this information with you. I also provide product recommendations for my favorite pest extermination products.
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