Centipede vs Millipede: Who is Who?

When it comes to these two leggy insects, many confuse the two. And there can’t be much blame for that. Centipedes and millipedes have very similar body plans: a long segmented body with lots of legs. However, there are some subtle differences. In this article, we’re doing a centipede vs millipede comparison.

Family Grouping

Both millipedes and centipedes belong to the group Myriapoda. While the best-known members of this group are the millipedes and centipedes, there are two other members of this group: Symphylans and Pauropods.

Myriapoda is an important step in understanding evolution on Earth. Pneumodesmus newmani is the earliest known myriapod, though older ones probably existed, living about 428 million years ago. This species is the first known land animal.

Interestingly, there are no known aquatic myriapods today. Whether there existed some in the past, is also not known.

Centipede vs Millipede: Differences in Body Design

The differences in body shape can be critical in determining who is who. Centipedes are dorsoventrally flattened, meaning they tend to have flat bodies. In comparison, millipedes tend to be more sub cylindrical.

Centipedes also only have one pair of legs per body segment, compared to the two that millipedes have. While many legs might seem to be an advantage for speed, millipedes are generally slow compared to centipedes which are fast.

Centipede vs Millipede: Diet

Another difference is their diet. Most of the group Myriapoda are herbivores, preferring to eat decaying matter such as leaves, fallen fruits, and rotting wood. Though there are some exceptions. Among the symphyla group, there is one predatory species. There are two groups of predatory millipedes.

Millipedes are great for soils as they turn decaying matter into usable nutrients in the soil, helping plant growth.

However, centipedes are very different. Centipedes are predators, hunting a variety of prey, mostly insects. Though there are a few species known to take on rodents and bats.

Centipede vs Millipede: Defenses

Centipedes are venomous. Their bite is venomous, but not found to be dangerous to humans, unless the victim has an allergy and is very young. Their bite and tough exoskeleton are thought to be their main lines of defense.

In addition, centipedes are very fast, hiding out of view for most of the time.

Millipedes also hide for most of their lives, preferring to live in the soil or under fallen trees/bark. 

They will occasionally be found by a predator. Some have learned to extrude a nasty-tasting substance to defend themselves. This is not harmful to humans, but it is something that will deter a predator. Some species can also curl up into a ball.

Final Word: Centipede vs Millipede: Who is Who?

In the centipede vs millipede question, above is all you need to determine what you’re looking at. Each plays an important role in our ecology. And they’re fascinating species to watch too.

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