Centipedes & Millipedes

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Centipedes and Millipedes, Pacific Northwest

Centipedes & Millipedes can be found all over the Pacific Northwest. Centipedes can easily be distinguished from millipedes by counting the number of pairs of legs arising from most body segments, millipedes have two pairs, while centipedes bear one pair per segment, with the first pair of legs being modified into fangs.

Centipedes are generally flattened and have a pair of well-developed antennae on the head. Some centipedes, such as the house centipede have long legs and are capable of running rapidly.

The largest centipedes may grow to be about 15 cm long. Millipede bodies are rounded or somewhat flattened. Legs are short and movement is slow, with the movement of legs appearing wave-like. Most species are less than 4 cm long.

Centipedes & Millipedes spend the winter as adults in protected habitats and become active in the spring. During the warmer months, females lay eggs in the soil and cover them with a sticky substance, although some species give birth to living young.

Common Centipede, Centipedes & Millipedes
Common Centipede, Photo By Bud Logan

Immature stages (larvae) hatching from eggs several days later are similar to adults but smaller, having fewer leg bearing body segments. Additional leg-bearing segments are produced with each molt. Millipedes develop through about seven stages in 21 to 25 weeks. Some centipedes are known to live to 6 years.

Centipedes & Millipedes prefer to live in moist habitats and during the day hide underneath rocks, logs and other objects in contact with the ground. They are active at night. Centipedes feed on insects and spiders.

stone Centipede, Centipedes & Millipedes
Stone Centipede, Photo By Bud Logan

They kill by grasping prey with their powerful fangs and injecting venom. The fangs are located on the body segment just below the head. Millipedes feed on decomposing organic matter, but will occasionally damage seedling plants by feeding on leaves, stems, and roots.

There are only a few centipedes on the Pacific Coast.

Common Centipede, photo by Bud Logan
Common Centipede, photo by Bud Logan

The common centipede that lives in the Pacific Northwest is a brownish red in color with long antennae at the front and a pair of long legs at the back which reach out almost as far as the antennae. The Common centipede can crawl backward almost as easily as it can crawl forwards. These centipedes are long, thin, and very fast. When full grown, they can reach up to 5 cm long.

The Common centipede is found on all of BC coast, they can be found in your gardens, in the forests and from the beach to the tree line. They are found at all times of year but are more active in the spring and fall.

Their body is quite flat which makes them ideally suited for hiding underneath rocks and fallen logs, this helps them to keep their bodies cool and moist and has the advantage of hiding them from predators. During the hot weather, Common centipedes will often burrow into the moist soil to stay cool.

Common centipedes do not see very well,  instead, they use their antennae to sense prey and feel their way around. When they sense a meal, like a spider, or small insect, they can run down and pounce on their victim, using their modified legs as fangs and injecting venom into their prey to subdue it.

Harpaphe Haydeniana Millipedes
Harpaphe Haydeniana, Photo By Bud Logan
Harpaphe Haydeniana Millipedes (almond scented millipede) are a common sight in the Pacific Northwest, it stands out with its bright yellow spots running the length of the black body. These spots are a warning to predators that this millipede is poisonous. When threatened, it emits a cyanide gas that smells like almonds but is quite poisonous to other small creatures.

Full grown, it can reach up to 7 cm long. The body is divided into 20 segments, the males have 30 pairs of legs and the females have 31. One of the male’s leg pairs is modified and used to transfer sperm to the female.

The almond-scented millipede can be found in the forests along the pacific northwest coast, from California to Alaska. This millipede lives among the leaf litter and old wood debris on the forest floor, it feeds on dead leaves and decayed wood. It burrows in the forest substrate, turning decomposing plant matter into rich soil. This millipede can venture into the open in the broad light of day, most predators keep a distance from this guy, so this is one millipede that is quite easy to find.

Harpaphe Haydeniana Millipedes
Harpaphe Haydeniana, Photo By Bud Logan
Mating season begins when the male millipede starts to emit pheromones so females can find him. Once a female has found him, he curls his body and transfers the sperm packet from the gonopore on his third body segment to his gonopods on his seventh body segment. The male then gets the female in the mood by massaging her with rhythmic leg movements. Once the female accepts the male, she lifts her front body segments, allowing him access to her genitals where he deposits his sperm in her spermathecae.

The female then builds a nest and deposits hundreds of eggs. The eggs are brown, irregularly shaped and speckled. Newborns have only a few legs and body segments, developing more with each molt. They change from pale gray to black and their spots intensify until they’re fully grown. They live up to three years.

Narceus Americanus Millipede
Narceus Americanus Millipedes, Photo By Robert Logan
These millipedes are cylindrical millipedes that can reach up to 10 cm long, being long and round make easy to recognize. They are a dark reddish-brown to black with a red line on the edge on each segment. They have two pairs of legs on most segments, the first four segments (thoracic) have a single pair of legs,  all of the following abdominal segments have two. The millipedes also have two short antennae.

Their diet consists of decaying plant matter and the fungi it contains, but occasionally they will eat decaying animal matter as well.

Narceus Americanus Millipede
Narceus Americanus Millipedes, Photo By Robert Logan
These millipedes are often found on or in decaying logs or in leaf litter. Despite their great number of legs, they are not fast crawlers.

These millipedes overwinter in rotting logs or in soil. In the spring, they emerge and mate. The females build nests using regurgitated food and then lay a single egg into it. They will brood the egg by wrapping themselves around it. In several weeks it will hatch as a nymph, they will have only three pairs of legs, but more grow with each molt. They can take up to 2 years to reach adulthood, and some can live up to 11 years.

These are pretty awesome to see in the wild.

Stone Centipede
Stone Centipede, photo by Bud Logan
Stone Centipedes (Flat Centipedes) are part of the Lithobiidae family. Stone Centipedes can live up to 3 years. Stone centipedes can be found in a wide variety of environments. Centipedes have a wide geographical range, reaching beyond the Arctic Circle, they are quite common on all of Vancouver Island. Centipedes can be found in many types of habitats from tropical rain forests to deserts and everything between.

Centipedes require a moist habitat because they lose water rapidly through the skin. Look for them in soil and leaf litters, under stones and dead wood, and inside logs.

Centipedes hunt for their food at night and are very active. One of their favorite types of food is the woodlice. The stone centipede is an omnivore that uses venom to kill their prey. Their venom is located in the first pair of modified legs, there are modified fangs at the ends. Centipedes hunt insects like earthworms, spiders, and other small creatures. The stone centipede uses his antennas to seek out their prey.

They have a flattened, segmented body, long antennas, and many legs. The centipede’s body is divided into two parts, the head, and a segmented trunk and they breathe through holes in their body. Centipedes have a hard exoskeleton that protects their soft internal organs.

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