Centipedes Vs Millipedes (13 Differences)

Both are anthropods with long, segmented bodies and many little legs. When you see something scuttle by, it’s not always the easiest to figure out if you just saw a millipede or a centipede. Especially since they both prefer protected and moist habitats. However, one can bite and produce venom while the other would rather curl up into a ball. So, how do you know what’s in your garden or house?

There are more differences between centipedes vs millipedes than you might think. Read on for 12 ways you can identify which one of these many-legged animals you come across.

Centipedes vs millipedes

Although they look similar, you may be surprised to learn about all the differences between centipedes and millipedes. Read on for 12 main differences to help you identify between the two anthropods.

1. Centipedes can be multicolored

Centipedes are typically orange, yellow, tan, or black; however, they can also be multicolored with different color body parts. For example, the Indian giant tiger centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha) has black and yellow body segments.

Millipedes can be bright colors like orange, yellow, and red but it’s more common to see a darker, black or gray, millipede.

2. Millipedes have longer lifespans

millipede in dirt
Image by Graham Richardson from Pixabay

Millipedes have lifespans from 1 to 10 years; however, centipedes typically live between 3 to 6 years. Millipedes tend to mature within 2 to 5 years and live for several more years after maturity. Centipede nymphs take up to 3 years to mature into adults.

3. Centipedes are venomous

A centipede’s main defense mechanism is their maxillipeds, which are venomous, modified legs on their first segment. Although their bite can kill small prey, the house centipedes in North America typically aren’t life-threatening to humans.

Small children or anyone with an insect allergy should still be careful and monitor symptoms closely after a bite. The larger species with brighter colors are the most venomous and dangerous to handle.

On the other hand, millipedes don’t have a stinging structure and tend to curl into a ball as a defense mechanism. Some species have glands that produce a defensive fluid that can burn skin and cause allergic reactions in humans.

4. Centipedes and millipedes have different diets

Centipedes are carnivores and millipedes are mostly detritivores. They will eat spiders, insects, and other small invertebrates by biting and injecting their prey with venom.

Some large species will also eat small birds, mice, or reptiles. In contrast, millipedes prefer decaying organic matter and will also eat the leaves and roots of seedling plants.

5. Millipedes have more legs on each segment than centipedes

Both millipedes and centipedes have long segmented bodies. However, millipedes are more rounded and they have 4 legs on each segment under their body. In contrast, centipedes are flatter and have only 2 legs on each segment. The centipede’s legs are also longer and more obvious than millipede legs.

6. Millipedes have shorter antennas than centipedes

Besides shorter legs, millipedes also have shorter antennas on their round head. Centipede heads are large with longer antennae. They also have an extra antenna on the back to help them see.

7. Centipedes are faster than millipedes

Centipedes tend to run when threatened and their longer legs help them scuttle away faster when escaping or catching prey. They can run around 16 inches per second. Millipedes are slow walkers and prefer to stay still and curl up into a ball when threatened.

Both millipedes and centipedes can leave their legs behind to escape the mouths of predators. They both have the ability to regenerate lost limbs.

8. You can find centipedes in more different habitats

While they both like dark, moist habitats, there are slight differences in where you can find millipedes vs centipedes. Millipedes tend to stick to moist soils with their main food sources of dead and decaying organic matter, such as under rocks, leaves, and logs.

However, centipedes can also be found in seashore terrestrial, desert, and topical habitats. They are active at night and will hide in moist, dark places during the day.

9. Centipedes can survive longer in homes

centipede on kitchen floor
credit: Laura via Flickr

Both centipedes and millipedes can find their way into your home and hang out in laundry rooms or bathrooms. However, millipedes need decaying organic matter or live plants to survive and will die quickly in homes. On the other hand, centipedes can eat spiders and insects, allowing them to adapt and survive longer indoors.

10. Millipedes can grow larger than centipedes

Millipedes grow between 0.12 to 15 inches long. The largest living species is the giant African millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas). However, scientists recently discovered the fossils of a giant millipede, Arthropleura, from over 300 million years ago that was around 8.5 feet long. Arthropleura is one of the largest invertebrates that ever lived.

Centipedes typically grow between 0.4 to 12 inches but are rarely bigger than a foot. The Amazonian giant centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) is the largest species. However, in North America, the giant desert centipede (Scolopendra heros) in the southwestern states is the largest, growing up to 8 inches long.

11. Centipedes and millipedes can mate differently

Centipedes mate by weaving a web that males deposit sperm into for females to find the webs and insert the deposits into their genitals. Most millipede species mate by using modified legs to transfer sperm into females; however, some will mate in the same way as centipedes.

12. Millipedes lay more eggs than centipedes

Millipede curled up
Millipede curled up | image by Rocky Sun via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Both millipedes and centipedes lay eggs and their hatchlings undergo molting to become adults with more legs. However, millipedes can lay up to 300 eggs, double the typical 35 to 150 eggs that centipedes lay.

13. Centipedes are more likely to provide parental care

Millipedes typically don’t provide parental care to their hatchlings, except for some species in the order Platydesmida. However, more species of centipedes are known to provide parental care. This includes licking the eggs to protect them from fungi and guarding hatchlings until they are ready to go out on their own.