Centipedes and millipedes can haunt you in your nightmares. Or can they? There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what these insects actually are and how they relate to each other. So we at Fantastic Pest Control decided to shine a little light on the subject. No need to thank us!
Australia houses some of the most terrifying giant centipedes on the planet. The fact that they look like they could easily get inside your ear and start biting doesn’t help much with their reputation (though the absolute champion in this department are earwigs). Let’s delve a bit deeper into the anatomy of these fascinating chilopods.
Anatomy of a centipede
Centipedes usually have flattened heads (like someone has stepped on them). They also have antennae in the front part used for orientation.
Like other myriapods, centipedes leverage their many legs and sometimes use them to hold down their potential dinner.
The antennae, as well as front and back legs, are used for orientation based on vibrations due to the lack of seeing eyes. In most species, even if there are organs that look like eyes, they mostly function to tell light from dark. This is an essential survival mechanism because centipedes thrive in the dark.
Centipedes are the only arthropod that has its legs as a natural extension and modification of their mouth. This is where their venom glands are located. Their first pair of legs is not an actual mouthpart. They function a bit differently, which makes centipedes unique in this respect.
The body of a centipede is divided into segments. This is what helps them be so flexible, hide from predators, as well as hunt down prey. Their antennae are finely attuned to seek out smaller insects.
Lifecycle of a centipede
The lifecycle of a centipede begins as an egg. To lay the eggs, the female needs warmer and more humid weather, which is why there can be some seasonality in some regions, and they might be completely absent in others. Yet, you can find a wealth of centipedes in warm and humid climates.
A single female of the species Geophilomorpha lays between 20 and 50 eggs, and usually under rotten tree trunks or in rotten wood. This provides a perfect and safe environment for the development of nymphs. Other species dig holes in the ground and bury them with leaves. So if you have centipedes at home, the most likely place to find them would be the basement, where it’s dark and humid (provided the temperature is not too low).
The hatchlings resemble adults, only they are smaller and develop more segments and more legs as they mature.
As predators, centipedes eat smaller insects. They can actually be pretty beneficial as a natural form of pest control for some common household pests. Some species hunt during the day, though.
Because they are predominantly nocturnal, this somewhat limits their usefulness, and at the same time, they can provide a decent scare in the middle of the night.
Mice, mongoose, some reptiles, and birds often prey on centipedes, especially if they catch them during the day.
Humans also prey on them sometimes. They are quite the delicacy in China, Laos, and Cambodia.
Centipede reproduction is interesting in the sense that it can be varied from species to species. In all cases, it does not involve actual copulation, but rather the use of a spermatophore. However, in some species, the male encourages the female by performing a dance, wherein other species he throws it out for her to find.
The home centipede
The home centipede has pretty consistent behaviour with those you can find in the wild. They hunt smaller insects but mostly go for those that can pose little threat to them. Their antennae are extremely sophisticated and sensitive. Home centipedes come out mostly at night, so you might not even know if you have a problem with them.
Due to their venom, some species can pose a threat to humans. In most cases, centipede venom is not potent enough to cause more than a small redding and an unpleasant sting, but some species can cause complications.
Pest control treatment for centipedes
There isn’t special centipede pest control. Once you schedule a visit from a pest controller, they’ll come, evaluate your case and conduct general pest control with proper pest control sprays.
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Most millipedes are slow, and while their name claims they have 1,000 legs, there are no known species to have 1,000 legs. The Illacme plenipes species has most legs of all millipedes with around 750 legs.
Anatomy of a millipede
Millipedes range in sizes. The smallest millipede is around 0.2mm (which is tiny), and the largest can reach 35 cm. Their bodies range from having just 11 segments to sporting over a hundred.
From all species of millipedes, all but one have hardened exoskeletons. The head of the millipede is rounded above and flat on the bottom. All species have mandibles.
On their heads, they have a single antenna and a group of sensory organs. The function of these sensory organs is unknown, but they can be found in centipedes as well.
Their bodies differ from species to species being both cylindrical and flat. Only the head and the following segment are legless.
Each segment after the first two bears two pairs of legs rather than one as the centipede. Their legs have seven segments and are attached on the bottom side of their body. Often, males have longer legs than males.
Common millipede species have anywhere from 30 to 400 legs. The Illacme plenipes is the creature with most legs in the world, sporting 750 legs.
Reproduction and lifecycle of a millipede
Surprisingly, millipedes have quite long lives. The millipedes’ journey begins as an egg. Each female lays anywhere from 10 to 300 eggs, depending on the species. Most species abandon their eggs once they’ve laid them.
It takes three weeks for a young millipede to hatch. As the insect grows, they continuously add new segments to their bodies. Some of these arthropods have reproductive and non-reproductive stages once they become an adult.
Millipedes can live up to 15 years, depending on the species. This makes these arthropods’ lives quite long.
While millipedes can look scary and dangerous, these arthropods mainly feed on organic matter, faeces and decomposing vegetation.
The diet of the millipede makes this arthropod quite important to the decomposition of organic matter and plant litter. These arthropods are especially important to regions where earthworm populations are small.
There are also a few species that are omnivorous and some that feed on meat. Their diet mostly consists of earthworms, snails and other insects.
The home millipede
Living in Australia will make you come face to face with a few millipedes now and then. This arthropod lives mostly in the backyard, so they’ll rarely infest your home.
However, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia have a common past with millipedes infestations. This infestation occurs when Portuguese millipedes gather in large numbers in your garden bed. Because of the abundance of millipedes, they tend to appear a lot inside your home.
Pest control treatment for millipede
Millipedes are treated with general pest control methods. If you start experiencing problems in your home, we suggest you call a professional to come and inspect your property.
Thankfully, general pest control sprays are strong enough to kill them.
Both insects are very similar. While it’s unlikely to experience a full-scale infestation in your home, if you do, we suggest you contact your local pest controller.
They may not pose a direct danger to you or your home, but no one should share their home with a thousand-legged creature.