Centipedes are arthropods with numerous legs — and as you’ll probably know, their name derives from the Latin words for “100” and “legs”. While the leg bonanza they’ve got going on indeed marks their main identifying feature, there are some other bugs with vaguely similar physical characteristics. How can you tell if a bug with a bunch of legs is a centipede or a millipede?
Centipedes, which belong to the Chilopoda group of arthropods, are a diverse family of species.
Over 3,000 have been identified to date, and thousands more are strongly believed to roam the globe. As with any really diverse species, there’s a lot of variation in their visual appearance.
The house centipede, which bears the Latin name Scutigera coleoptrata, is one of the more prevalent centipede species — as well as the kind you are most likely to encounter within your home and around your garden, if you live in the United States or Europe.
Other types of centipedes can be larger in size, as well as having different colors that include a deep brown, gray, black, and gray with bright yellow legs and a yellow head. In shape, however, all members of the centipede family have a similar appearance.
Centipedes and millipedes are both arthropods with many legs and long bodies separated into numerous segments. Both are groups, rather than species — and over 12,000 individual millipede species have been identified. Centipedes belong to the Chilopoda class, and millipedes belong to the Diplopoda class.
Compared to centipedes, millipedes:
Millipedes (meaning “a thousands legs”; not a literal description) are arthropods, just like centipedes, and have numerous legs and long bodies. These are, however, very different groups of bugs. Centipedes are predators (though, they aren’t particularly dangerous to humans). Millipedes are, on the other hand, mainly herbivores, bugs that feed on decaying plant and organic matter such as leaves, fungi, and emerging seedlings.
Common house centipedes are known as insectivores, meaning creatures that eat insects, but arachnids also feature heavily on their menus.
House centipedes need constantly moist or humid conditions to protect themselves against ever-looming dehydration, prefer cooler temperatures, and search for dark environments.
They also require a constant supply of food. If they live within your property, their diet will include pest bugs like:
With the exception of spiders, which likewise prey on harmful pests, these are all bugs you don’t want on your property.
Not only are many of them associated with high moisture levels (which pose their own threats to your home, including that of a mold infestation), their presence can also cause health complications. Getting rid of centipedes (and many other indoor pests) can often mean fixing moisture or structural issues with your home.
Therefore, even though house centipedes are commonly considered a pest, or at least a nuisance, they can be actively helpful as they manage other pests.