While they are both creepy crawly insects, centipedes and millipedes are not the same creatures, although many get these two types of long, many-legged bugs mixed up and it can be hard to tell the difference.
Knowing the difference between these arthropods can mean the difference between walking away from an encounter unscathed and needing a trip to the emergency room. While millipedes are mostly harmless to humans, centipedes produce stronger toxins that can be extremely painful and, in rare cases, lethal. So it’s important to be able to tell the difference between these segmented vermin to protect yourself.
If you have not grown up in an area that has centipedes, millipedes, or both, you may not know how to identify either one on sight. These insects have elongated bodies with multiple segments. Their names are derived from how they look, meaning either a hundred or a thousand legs. One difference that you can use to distinguish most centipedes from millipedes is the shape of their long bodies. While millipedes are round-bodied, their centipede counterparts usually have flattened bodies. One good example when trying to tell them apart is that millipedes look more like a thick straw whereas centipedes look more like a popsicle stick.
If you get close enough to observe the number of legs per segment, you will notice that centipedes have only one pair of legs on each segment while millipedes have two pairs on theirs. Another physical difference that can help you identify which of these you are dealing with is the longer antennae located on centipedes’ heads. Millipedes, in comparison, have shorter antennae.
Both centipedes and millipedes have glands that produce toxins for defense against predators and enemies. Millipedes produce a toxin that is not harmful but will smell badly for up to an hour. If you happen to touch one of these squirmers, your hands could reek for quite a while. The toxins produced by Millipedes are not poisonous to humans, but they can cause irritation and be more dangerous to those who have allergies to other insects. However, the centipede produces a much more potent toxin that can cause lots of pain and is especially dangerous to small children, animals, and those with compromised immune systems or allergies.
The centipede’s toxins come from two venomous legs behind the head segment. While you may not want to encounter either one of these critters, it is much less dangerous to meet a millipede. Not only are they less physically harmful, but millipedes are also easier to evade since their stout bodies and shorter legs inhibit their ability to move quickly. On the other hand, centipedes can travel very fast.
Centipedes are carnivores so they eat insects and can be good for the garden. If there are insects inside your home centipedes might be attracted to the buffet you have laid on for them and come indoors.
Millipedes, on the other hand, are herbivores. They eat plants and rotting leaves, wood and fruit. If you have too many Millipedes in your garden they can start eating your plants and become a real pest.
While these two creatures do have their differences, you can avoid having them in your home in much the same way. Centipedes and millipedes both enjoy dark, damp, and decaying matter. They are generally in the home to avoid colder temperatures and to find food. If you eliminate places that they enjoy and keep all food and plant matter well stored and maintained, it can substantially reduce the likelihood of a centipede or millipede finding its way into your house.