Centipedes and Millipdes

How to tell them apart

How do I tell the difference between a centipede and a millipede?

The centipede ("hundred legs") and millipede ("thousand legs") have various similarities, reflecting their biological relationship. Both, for instance, have common evolutionary roots, which extend back for more than 400 million years. Although related to lobsters, shrimp and crayfish, both are creatures of the land. Both have elongated, exoskeletal, segmented bodies. Both molt, extending the segments of their bodies. Both may live for several years. The centipede and the millipede also, however, have distinctive features.

Comparison of Anatomy and Appearance

  • The centipede has an elongated, flattened, exoskeletal body
  • The millipede, in most species, an elongated, rounded, exoskeletal body
  • The centipede has, attached to its head, two relatively long segmented antenna that serve for feeling and smelling
  • The centipede has, on the trunk segment immediately behind the head, two modified venomous legs that it uses to capture and kill prey
  • The millipede has two comparatively short segmented antenna that function as acutely sensitive sensors
  • The millipeded has no venomous legs.
  • The centipede's trunk segments each have a single pair of legs
  • The millipede's segments, two pairs of legs

Banded desert centipede. Note that each segment has a single pair of legs; the head, to the right, has segmented antenna; and the final segment, to the left, has modified legs for mating and defense.


Comparison of Defensive Strategies

The centipede uses two modified legs on the last segment of its body trunk and two modified venomous legs on the first segment for defense; the millipede uses glands that run along its trunk to produce - and sometimes squirt - noxious chemicals that discourage predators.

Comparison of Mobility

The centipede, with comparatively long legs, can move swiftly for short distances in a sprint to capture prey or elude predators; the millipede, with its short legs, can only move laboriously as it forages in soil and plant litter for food.

Comparison of Habitat

Both being susceptible to desiccation, a centipede seeks out stony crevices, fallen leaves, rotting logs, and the damp nooks in your home; the millipede favors decaying vegetation.

Comparison of Foraging

As a predator, the centipede feeds on animals as diverse as insects, spiders, reptiles and birds; as scavengers and herbivores, most species of millipede feed on decaying plant material and sprouting seedlings.


The centipede male deposits sperm bundles, entrusting females to find them and impregnate themselves. By contrast, the millipede male and female join in mating. Centipede and millipede females both typically lay their eggs in underground nests. The females of some centipede species abandon their eggs, leaving the broods to manage on their own; the females of other species nurtures their broods until the offspring can manage on their own. The females of all the various millipede species remain with their eggs until they hatch, and they nurture the offspring until they can manage on their own.


Author: Jay Sharp


Common Questions About Centipedes

How do I recognize a centipede?

Is a centipede bite posionous?

How should I treat a centipede bite?

How do I control centipede infestations?

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