Centipedes and Millipedes

Centipedes and Millipedes



Centipede. Image from Wikimedia Commons. Author: John Hill

Centipedes (from Latin prefix centi-, “hundred”, and pes, pedere, “foot”) are arthropods belonging to the class Chilopoda of the subphylum Myriapoda. They are elongated metameric creatures with one pair of legs per body segment. Despite the name, centipedes can have a varying number of legs from under 20 to over 300. Centipedes have an odd number of pairs of legs, e.g. 15 or 17 pairs of legs (30 or 34 legs).

A key trait uniting this group is a pair of venom claws or forcipules formed from a modified first appendage. Centipedes are a predominantly carnivorous taxon.

Some species of centipede can be hazardous to humans because of their bite. Although a bite to an adult human is usually very painful and may cause severe swelling, chills, fever, and weakness, it is unlikely to be fatal. Bites can be dangerous to small children and those with allergies to bee stings. The bite of larger centipedes can induce anaphylactic shock in such people. Smaller centipedes usually do not puncture human skin.

Even nonvenomous centipedes are considered frightening by humans due to their dozens of legs moving at the same time and their tendency to dart swiftly out of the darkness towards one’s feet.[14] A 19th century Tibetan poet warned his fellow Buddhists that “if you enjoy frightening others, you will be reborn as a centipede.”

Centipedes normally have a drab coloration combining shades of brown and red. Cavernicolous (cave-dwelling) and subterranean species may lack pigmentation and many tropical scolopendromorphs have bright aposematic colours. Size can range from a few millimetres in the smaller lithobiomorphs and geophilomorphs to about 30 cm (12 in) in the largest scolopendromorphs. Centipedes can be found in a wide variety of environments.

Worldwide, there are estimated to be 8,000 species of centipede,of which 3,000 have been described. Centipedes have a wide geographical range, reaching beyond the Arctic Circle.

Centipedes are found in an array of terrestrial habitats from tropical rainforests to deserts. Within these habitats, centipedes require a moist micro-habitat because they lack the waxy cuticle of insects and arachnids, and so lose water rapidly through the skin. Accordingly, they are found in soil and leaf litter, under stones and dead wood, and inside logs. Centipedes are among the largest terrestrial invertebrate predators and often contribute significantly to the invertebrate predatory biomass in terrestrial ecosystems.


Millipedes can be easily distinguished from the somewhat similar and related centipedes (Class Chilopoda) which move rapidly, are carnivorous, and have a single pair of legs for each body segment.

Millipedes are myriapods of the class Diplopoda that have two pairs of legs on most body segments. Each double-legged segment is a result of two single segments fused together as one (the name “Diplopoda” comes from the Greek words διπλοῦς (diplous), “double” and ποδός (podos), “foot”). Most millipedes have very elongated cylindrical or flattened bodies with more than 20 segments, while pill millipedes are shorter and can roll into a ball, like a pillbug.


Millipede. Image from Wikimedia Commons. Author: Jmalik

The name “millipede” is a compound word formed from the Latin roots mille (“thousand”) and pes (“foot”). Despite their name, no known millipede has 1,000 legs, although the rare species Illacme plenipes has up to 750.[1] Common species have between 36 and 400 legs. There are approximately 12,000 named species in ca. 140 families.[2] The longest species is the giant African millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas).

Most millipedes are slow-moving detritivores, eating decaying leaves and other dead plant matter. However, they can also be minor garden pests, especially in greenhouses where they can cause severe damage to emergent seedlings.

Due to their lack of speed and their inability to bite or sting, millipedes’ primary defence mechanism is to curl into a tight coil – protecting their delicate legs inside an armoured body exterior. Many species also emit various poisonous liquid secretions through microscopic ozopores (also called odoriferous or repugantorial glands), along the sides of their bodies as a secondary defence. These secretions may include alkaloids, benzoquinones, phenols, terpenoids, and/or hydrogen cyanide, among many others. Some of these substances are caustic and can burn the exoskeleton of ants and other insect predators, and the skin and eyes of larger predators. Primates such as capuchin monkeys and lemurs have been observed intentionally irritating millipedes in order to rub the chemicals on themselves to repel mosquitoes. Some of these defensive compounds also show antifungal activity.The bristly millipedes (order Polyxenida) lack both an armoured exoskeleton and odiferous glands, and instead are covered in numerous bristles that in at least one species, Polyxenus fasciculatus, detach and entangle ants.

This information is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Read more about centipedes here, and millipedes here.