The Difference Between Centipedes and Millipedes

Centipede or Millipede: Which is in my house?

We’ve all moved an old box or chest and seen a skittering creature dart away. It always has too many legs to count and seems to be extremely elusive. These are generally house centipedes, and they’re harmless. They actually can help keep some other insects away, much in the same way that spiders can help control what ends up buzzing or crawling around your house.

Millipedes, on the other hand, are more often than not found outside in the dirt. The smallest and most common millipedes are usually discovered when you turn over a rock. They’re not very fast and they sort of resemble the centipede. Before we look at the difference between centipedes and millipedes, let’s look at how they’re similar.


Both centipedes and millipedes are members of the myriapod family. They are neither insects nor arachnids, and there are thousands and thousands of species of each. Perhaps the most famous of each are the giant varieties. The Giant African Millipede can reach over a foot in length and can live for more than 7 years. They are native to East Africa but have been imported as pets due to being relatively docile.

Similarly, the Giant Centipede can also reach more than 12 inches in length, and it looks as aggressive as it acts. It is native to South America, and because of its size and venom, can actually feed on much more than insects – it has been known to eat frogs, lizards, birds, snakes, bats, mice, scorpions, and tarantulas.

Now, let’s take a look at the difference between millipedes and centipedes!


A giant centipede
This centipede looks pretty menacing! Photo by Steviamint from Pixabay


First, start with the basics. The suffix –pede means foot, while the prefixes Centi– and Milli– mean hundred and thousand. These are slight mischaracterizations, however, as no species of centipede or millipede has that exact number of legs. In fact, millipedes have only been known to have up to 750 legs – still quite short of the thousand mark, and it isn’t the norm at all.

Even still, you don’t generally count the legs of the creature to determine whether it’s a millipede or a centipede. The better metric is to observe the position of the legs. Centipedes have legs that are highly visible and jut out from the sides of their body, while millipedes have legs that are essentially concealed from view, as they are located underneath their bodies. Centipedes have much longer legs as well, and they stick out at an angle.


Because of their diets, millipedes tend to be found in areas with lots of vegetation, so they are primarily located in damp forests and woods where there are ample plants. They prefer the humidity. Centipedes, adversely, can thrive in dry areas and deserts, but are known to also live near the sea and in the tropics. They are an incredibly hardy species.


A closeup of a centipede
Count the legs! Image by 631372 from Pixabay

The antenna is used to feel the environment, pick up vibrations, and sense what’s nearby. On centipedes, the antennas are very long, almost looking like additional legs. Millipedes have very short antennas, on the other hand.


Both centipedes and millipedes have poor vision and generally sense by vibrations and antenna probing, but they do breathe through spiracles located on each body segment. However, a centipede’s spiracles are located laterally (on the sides of the body) and can close, while the millipede’s spiracles are on the abdomen and can never be closed. They are both segmented, but different pairs of legs are attached to each segment (1 or 2 pairs of legs per segment for centipedes, 2 or 4 pairs of legs per segment for millipedes). Centipedes have a flatter body shape, while millipedes have more cylindrical body shapes.


Millipede on vegetation
Millipedes are almost shaped like tubes. Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Centipedes and millipedes are differently capable of defending themselves. Centipedes are more aggressive due to their predatory nature; they’re fast-moving and can escape threats, but they can also fight back due to their venom. Millipedes are not predators and rely on curling up into a ball. They do this because their heads and fleshy underbellies are very exposed. However, millipedes do have the ability to discharge a liquid that smells bad, stains skin, and repels predators. In addition, they can escape via burrowing underground where some predators may not be able to reach them.

Centipedes like the Texas redheaded centipede rely on an intimidating physical appearance as well as their capabilities to ward off predators. For them, the best defense is a strong offense!

This is not the case with all millipedes. The shocking pink dragon millipede, or just the dragon millipede, is, as you can tell by the name, pink. This coloration warns predators that it is not safe to eat, especially because it emits hydrogen cyanide to deter potential predators and threats.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Centipedes have venom that can paralyze their prey. They mostly eat other smaller insects, so they’re carnivorous in nature. Millipedes, though, do not eat other insects; they tend to maintain themselves on a diet of decomposing plant matter. In this way, they can be considered scavengers, but only for vegetation and not for meat.

Looking for Exotic Pets?

For some, a cat or a dog is not enough. The allure of exotic pets is stronger now than ever, and as long as you have proper space and time, you can own something out of the ordinary. Many people have taken millipedes and centipedes as pets; they may not be the most affectionate creatures, but they are fascinating! Be sure to have a proper tank to keep them in, and do extensive research to make certain that you understand their diets, habitats, living conditions, and lifestyles.

The benefit to keeping a millipede is the relative inexpensiveness due to its diet and habitat. If you want a centipede, though, you will need to provide prey for it to eat.

If you’re looking for other exotic pets, if you need to inquire about tank sizes, or if you want to get an insect or an arachnid instead of a myriapod, give Allan’s Pet Center a call. We’ll be happy to help you find what you need!

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