Centipedes and millipedes are placed by biologists in the same subphylum, Myriapoda
, but most similarities end there. Centipedes (class Chilopoda
) are fast and aggressive predators, while millipedes (class Diplopoda
) are slow-moving and feed on vegetation and decaying organic matter. Over 3,000 species of centipedes and 10,000 species of millipedes have been discovered so far, and many are completely unknown outside of their description. Millipedes can be hardy pets and do well in small enclosures. Centipedes, however, require more consideration and are best suited to experienced keepers.
Centipedes and millipedes are found on all continents except Antarctica and live in a variety of habitats including deserts, grasslands, caves, rainforests, and human dwellings. Within these environments, they usually seek out dark humid microhabitats where they are well-protected to forage or hunt.
Millipedes graze on organic materials and defend themselves by curling into a circle and releasing irritating secretions. Chemicals found in some of these secretions are used by certain monkeys, apparently as an insect deterrent. Millipedes often possess many pairs of legs: a species from the American southwest has 750 legs, while most have less than 300. They can grow quite large as well, with the African Giant Millipede, Achispirospreptus gigas
, reaching 11 inches.
Centipedes are venomous predators capable of overpowering bats, tarantulas, lizards, and rodents. When attacked they can release irritants and inflict painful wounds with their venomous front claws and sharp legs. While their legs number far fewer than millipedes, the Amazonian Giant Centipede can reach an incredible 12 inches in length.
Centipedes and millipedes are secretive invertebrates that often remain hidden below the cover of rotting wood, leaf litter, or soil. Most will burrow in captivity, but if conditions are acceptable they will engage in periods of activity. Centipedes must be housed alone, but millipedes can be kept successfully in groups.
Setting up the Terrarium
Screen-covered aquariums or plastic enclosures are best for centipedes and millipedes. A 10 gallon tank is more than large enough for a single adult of any of the larger species. A deep layer of substrate and other shelters are necessary to provide retreats. Centipede enclosures in particular should be secured with clips or some type of locking mechanism.
Millipede substrate should be 4-6 inches deep and comprised of 50% leaf litter, such as oak or ash, and decaying wood which is then mixed with coconut husk
or peat moss
. The millipedes will feed on this organic material, so it will need to be refreshed. Centipedes can be kept identically, although leaf litter is not necessary.
Direct light is not required, but a day/night cycle should be provided with ambient light.
Heat and Humidity
Most centipedes and millipedes do well at room temperature or slightly warmer. 72-85°F is ideal. Heat lamps or ceramic emitters may dry out enclosures, so it if additional heat is necessary it should be provided with a heating pad
attached to the side of the tank near the substrate. It should not be placed underneath the tank, as heat emanating from below is unnatural and may disrupt burrowing behavior.
Centipedes are prone to dehydration, but millipedes also require high humidity levels. Misting the enclosure, moistening the substrate, and partially covering the lid with plastic are all methods to increase or retain humidity.
Centipedes thrive on a diet of crickets, mealworms or superworms, and earthworms. Wild insects, feeder roaches, and other invertebrates can also be offered. Mice are not required, even for larger species, although pinkie or fuzzy mice can be offered occasionally.
Millipedes can be fed a mixture of fruits and vegetables, tropical fish flakes
, and tortoise pellets
in addition to leaf litter. A shallow dish
of water should be provided to both millipedes and centipedes, although most of their water will be obtained through their food.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Both centipedes and millipedes remain below the substrate when molting and should not be disturbed at this time. Special attention should also be paid to humidity at this time. Misting the tank or moistening the substrate should be done frequently.
Centipedes should be fed every few days to once per week or so. Millipedes should have some form of food available at all times. Spot cleaning and checking on your animal's health should also be done regularly. When dealing with centipedes it is best to use long feeding tongs
to avoid bites.
Centipedes are very fast and bites are extremely painful. Only responsible adults should perform any maintenance in a centipede enclosure, as bites from large centipedes are more serious to children and elderly people. Symptoms resulting from envenomation may include fever, dizziness, cardiac problems, breathing difficulty, and in very rare cases even death. Before keeping centipedes be sure that you will have quick access to medical attention in the event of a bite, and take every precaution to avoid the possibility of this situation ever occurring. Centipedes are best moved by inverting a clear container over the animal and sliding a lid below.
Millipedes release secretions that can irritate the eyes, skin, and mucus membranes. Although most species available in the hobby have not been shown to be dangerous, they should be kept away from the face and if possible handled with latex gloves. Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water after working around any animal
Please speak with your doctor concerning details.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1246 or [email protected]