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The animal that many people call “wood eating centipede” may actually be a millipede.
Both of these animals live in damp, humid environments. Both centipedes and millipedes have multi-segmented bodies and a lot of legs. There are some things about centipedes and millipedes that make them very different.
Centipedes are long, slender animals.
Their body is rather flat. They have long legs that seem to extend from the side of their body. Centipedes have one pair of legs on almost every segment of the body. House centipedes grow to about 1half an inch in length. Some of the tropical centipedes that live in the desert southwest can reach 8″.
Millipedes are also long, slender animals, but their bodies are tube-shaped.
Millipedes normally grow to about 4half an inch in length, but they are sometimes longer. Millipedes’ legs are very short. Their legs seem to be underneath their body. Most of the body segments have two pair of legs. Many times people see millipedes curled up in a coil.
Centipedes are predators.
They eat spiders and insects. It may sound odd, but centipedes are actually beneficial because they eat insects. The centipedes have a pair of claws at the front of their body. The claws can deliver venom that the centipedes use to paralyze their prey.
Millipedes are scavengers.
Their normal diet consists of decaying plant material. They will readily eat rotting wood. This habit, along with their appearance, probably led to their name of “wood eating centipedes”. Some millipedes eat dead insects. Some millipedes damage living plants by feeding on them.
Centipedes sometimes bite people when the people try to pick them up. Most people feel a sting and get an itchy, swollen red spot. These usually disappear in a few hours. Some people are allergic to centipede venom and the reaction sometimes does not appear for an hour or more. A bite victim should be observed closely. If he or she shows signs of an allergic reaction, seek medical attention.
Millipedes do not bite.
However, some species of millipedes produce a fluid from glands on the sides of their body. This fluid has an offensive odor. The fluid can cause skin blisters on people who try to handle them. A few species of millipedes are toxic to predators.
Since centipedes are predators of insects, they can actually be considered beneficial. However most people do not want them in their homes. Since millipedes do not eat sound wood, they are not a threat to people’s homes, but they are considered pests.
People can prevent problems with these animals by eliminating their hiding places and entryways. Woodpiles should be moved away from the house. Mulch and leaves should be raked back away from the foundation.
Exterior doors should close tightly. Weather-stripping can be used to make thresholds pest-proof. Crawl space access doors should fit securely. Crawl space vents and ground-level windows should be screened.
A barrier of liquid insecticide can be applied to the foundation. This will help prevent centipedes and millipedes from trying to invade. Rain and sun will break down the insecticide quickly, so it will have to be re-applied periodically. Many people prefer to lat a pest control professional make these applications.