Centipedes are usually easy to spot due to their unique morphological features. It may be difficult to distinguish between centipedes and other myriapods, such as millipedes and symphylans.
So what do centipedes look like?
Centipedes are long, thin, segmented, multi-legged creatures, typically having their legs splayed out from the body, with two antennae in front, and two rear appendages as well.
I’ve put together this article, and several photos, so you can see what most common centipedes look like and how they differ from other bugs like millipiedes.
What Does a Centipede Look Like?
Centipedes often range from 4 mm to 300 mm, depending on their age and transformation stage. They usually have deeper stripes or body patterns on top of their typically yellowish to dark brown coloring. They have a rigid, elongated, and column-like body with tergites, or plates, that alternate between long and short in many groups on the upper side of their body.
Additionally, they have a single-segmented pair of thread-like antennae that hardly ever extend past their bodies.
Centipedes can traverse their environment thanks to a pair of complex eyes and one or more simple eyes (ocelli) on either side of the head. Some centipede species, however, are blind and rely only on their antennae for navigation.
They typically have 15 to 191 pairs of legs, one pair for each part of the body. The last pair, the odd one, always trails behind the body of centipedes, which always have several pairs of legs.
Between their initial walking legs and mouth, they have appendages with a poison gland towards the tip that they employ to release venom that paralyzes their victim and aids in protecting themselves from predators.
Although all species of centipedes have similar anatomy, some distinguishing features exist. The following are some of the common centipedes and their features:
1. House Centipede
House centipedes, the most common species of centipede, have about fifteen pairs of legs. They are usually yellow or gray in appearance and prefer to live in wet, chilly, or gloomy corners of the house or apartment, and in compost piles.
Because of their demand for cooler environments that human habitat provides, these types are more typically found in the spring.
House centipedes have about fifteen pairs of legs.
2. Common Desert Centipede
The Common Desert Centipede, also known as the Banded Desert Centipede or the Tiger Centipede, prefers arid grasslands, deserts, and woodland environments with little humidity, where it digs tunnels to live.
They can grow to a length of 20cm and have orange, dark brown, and red heads, light brown bodies, and yellow legs.
Their venom is known to have anti-microbial characteristics that can aid in treating certain ailments.
3. Giant Desert Centipede
The Giant Desert Centipede, also known as the Texas redheaded centipede or the giant Sonoran centipede, is a huge centipede with around 23 pairs of legs and a length of about 20cm. They have red heads on green/black bodies and are usually found in wooded areas.
They like to stay concealed in hot weather and come out when it is cooler.
The bite from these giant centipedes is fearsome, and can be quite painful. However, there have been no reports of deaths due to these pests.
4. Eastern Red Centipede
The Eastern Red Centipede has a flat, segmented body that helps it to pass through narrow spaces. It is generally red or brown with yellow legs. Their motions are quick and fluid. Although they are mainly found outside, they may also be found indoors, particularly at night, because they are nocturnal.
5. Brown Centipede
The Brown Centipede, commonly known as the Stone Centipede, is around 3 cm long, 0.4cm wide, and chestnut brown. They live on the earth and under rocks and rotten wood.
It normally flees as quickly as possible when it is detected, seeking cover.
6. Pacific Giant Centipede
The Pacific Giant Centipede may reach a length of 20cm and has twenty-two body segments. They are an extremely energetic and aggressive centipede species. Their bodies are typically red or brown, with yellow or orange legs.
7. Amazonian Giant Centipede
If you see one of these nasties, watch out! The Amazonian giant centipede, or Scolopendra Gigantia, has one of the most feared bites in the bug world.
Its bite has been known to kill a child, so it’s no joke!
The Amazonian giant centipede is prevalent throughout South America and the Southern Caribbean islands.
8. Redheaded Centipede
The female Redheaded Centipede is somewhat bigger than the male. They have eight eyes, four on each side of their heads, and an antenna with seventeen segments.
They are especially invasive since they tend to run when discovered.
How Do Centipedes Function?
A centipede uses its forcipules, which have powerful mandibles and poisonous fangs, to sense its surroundings, catch prey, and defend itself. Depending on the size of the centipede, its venom can be quite unpleasant, although it seldom affects people and is not usually fatal.
Depending on the size of the centipede, its venom can be quite unpleasant, although it seldom affects people and is not usually fatal.
However, its venom paralyzes its preferred prey, usually spiders, cockroaches, moths, and other small invertebrates. It grasps them with its mandibles and injects them with venom using its front legs. They are also known to be violent towards their species, which results in cannibalistic behavior.
Centipedes can be found in wet regions like decaying logs, behind stones, waste or refuse, or in mounds of leaves or grass. They prefer moist crawl spaces, bathrooms, potted plants, or wet basements when they infiltrate.
They are mostly active at night and prefer dimly lit areas during the day.
Centipedes are useful in the garden despite being venomous because they contribute to the decomposition of some leaf litter and aid the microorganisms that transform the decomposed leaf litter into nutrient-rich soil.
How To Differentiate Centipedes from Millipedes
Centipedes are often confused with fellow myriapods like the millipede and symphylans because of their similar features and looks. However, some distinctions separate them.
Unlike centipedes which possess one pair of legs per segment, millipedes have two pairs of legs on each body segment. Here’s a millipede for comparison:
Centipedes possess one pair of legs per segment, millipedes have two pairs of legs on each body segment.
With a round body and hard external skeleton, the millipede contrasts with the centipede’s flattened body. While centipedes possess odd pairs ranging from 15 to 171, millipedes can possess up to 400 pairs of legs.
Millipedes move slower than the centipede and are not as aggressive, partly because of their preferred diet of decaying plant material. They tend to curl up into a ball when they feel threatened or resting.
Millipedes move slower than the centipede and are not as aggressive.
Symphylans, however, have bodies that look like the centipedes’ but are smaller in size and translucent. They are usually white or pale yellow with six to twelve pairs of legs, depending on the age. Unlike centipedes, they are mostly underground, about 15 inches deep between soil particles.
I’ve described centipedes and their distinguishing features from other myriapods, and shown a bunch of photos to hopefully give you the idea. Being venomous arthropodes, they are beneficial to humans because their diet is insects such as flies, spiders, etc.
Although centipedes are mostly just a nuisance and pose little risk to humans or property, centipedes possess toxins that can cause a reaction similar to a bee sting, or worse! Their sting can break the skin and cause edema if they are mishandled.
It’s best to avoid contact with these pests if you’ve got them, and contact a pest control expert if they’ve invaded your home. Alternatively, you can try out some natural centipede defense here.