DIPLOPODS (millipedes), CHILOPS (centipedes), PAUROPODS and SYMPHILES are terrestrial, tracheal arthropods with a tubular body and lengthened and they belong to the order of MYRIAPODS “a lot of feet” from the Greek Subphylum Myriapoda: myna= ten thousand or myrioi= so many and podos= feet, in fact, the number of paws of a fully-grown myriapod comes from a minimal of 18 to a maximum of 750 paws.

In spite of the fact that they are insects with an unpleasant aspect, they have, in the environment where they live, a very important role because, depending on the order they belong, they eat insects or vegetables, dead leaves and rotten wood.

Common millipedes and the centipedes belong, respectively, to the orders of diplopods and chilopods. Seeing them they seem to have the head equal to the tail, but the head has got a pair of antennae, simple eyes, known as ocelluses, a pair of jaws, a pair of upper jaws for the millipedes and for the pauropods, while the symphiles has got two pairs of upper jaws. The body is divided into segments that into the millipedes are like a strong shell and, from each segment, excepting from the last one, thrust out a pair of paws (centipedes) or two pair of paws (millipedes) that are constituted by 5 items. For breathing they have got a tubular windpipe, the females are oviparouses and all the myriapods are unisexual (except for some rare exception).


Millipedes or diplopods, are very important in nature, for their diet based on debrises and vegetables, they are tireless devouring of wood and foliage and, somehow also of excreta, corpses and other substances. Millipedes become great productors of organic substances and natural fertilizer, for this reason, millipedes are connected to the damp environment and reach of humus and commonly we find them in the litter of foliage, in the ground under Rocks and falled trunks, in the rotting stuff bat, in spite of the dirty place where they live, they spend a lot of time cleaning and shining their shell and their antennae.

All over the world exist ten thousand breeds of millipedes, and among them, in Italy, there are about four hundred of them. In scientific language millipedes are called Diplopods from diplo=double and podos=foot because, from each segment of the body with the shape of a ring, comes out two pairs of paws. In the animal reign in fact, for this characteristic, millipedes have got the record for the greater number of paws and, in spite of the fact that they have two pairs of paws for each segment, millipedes, unlike centipedes, they move very slowly, with a great elegance, in a movement like a weave and, in the same time it permits them of having a greater thrust that permits them to introduce into the ground.

Actually no millipedes has got this number of paws, the record-holder that lives in California has got 750 and it is the Illacme Plenipes of the order of Siphonophorida while the Polyxernis lagurus that lives in Italy and it is a very little millipede do not exceed 3cm and, it has got only 24 paws, while the Graphidostreptus gigas that lives in Africa, and the Scaphistostreptus seychellarum that lives at the Seychelles can reach 30cm.

Other millipedes have got some curios characteristics as the Serradium hirsutipes that can remains into the water for a month and more; another breed of millipedes, Motyxia, lights itself for removing possible parasites, the Serradium hirsutipes was found in Italy only ten years ago, and precisely into the graves of the Monti Lessini, it breathes through “modified air inlets”, groups of hydrophobic hairs with which they can catch the air in little bubbles. Than there are the millipedes of the breed of Glomeridae, they have a short, convex and cylindrical body with only 11-12 segments that, when they close forming a ball for defending from the dehydratation or some predators, they seem to be ground pigs.

Or the Pachyiulus communis of the Julidae’s family, he has got a long body, with a cylindrical shape, with very short paws, morphologically it is adapt to hollow out into the ground, besides, for defending itself, it coils on itself forming a spiral and it emits a nauseating yellowish liquid. This breed of millipedes, somehow, can reach a great number into the ground of the gardens and penetrate into the houses of the ground level and underground but can come inside the houses also through the vases for the flowers and humus already infected.

Another millipedes, the Julide Ommotoiulus morelleti, has got a longed and also cylindrical body and it is divided into 50 segments and more, it lives into the Iberian Peninsula, accidentally introduced in Australia, it is not also present in Italy, it is often a cause of infestations for its phototropism that attracts a lot of other exemplarys into the lighted buildings.

A millipede can be confused with a centipede for the flattened shape of its body and it is the Polydesmus sp, but is very visible the two pairs of paws for each segment of the body that generally are about 20. Also this breed of millipedes, can in different occasions, as the other millipedes, penetrate into the buildings. It has happened to me, in just one occasion, to notice different exemplars of Polydesmus into the inside of a cafeteria and its believable cause was the near garden recently treated with a lot quantity of mulch based on pine bark, surely already infested by these arthropods.

How we have already noticed, millipedes can have a convex, cylindrical body, and, when they are disturbed, they defend themselves wrapping round on them and secreting from specific glands a repellent or toxic liquid. Millipedes, have got the antennae shorter than the one of centipedes, while the dimensions change depending on the environment where they live, in Italy the lengthened of millipedes comes from 10mm to 50mm.

The life of millipedes, as a rule, is of 3 years, but some of them can also reach the 11 years; they have a very slow growing and reach a sexual maturity after the first or second year of life, the copulation happens with real rites of courting with the emission of particular odours to attract the female, that, inseminated, lays about one thousand of eggs that, in some cases, remains to protect them to the hatching.


Centipedes have got, differentiating to the millipedes, on the head, long and threadlike antennae, and they have got a flattened body. The dimensions of chilops, that can be found in our country, various from 3mm to 200-300mm, they have got only one pair of paws for each segment and the number of paws changes, from 15 pairs to a maximum of 191, and, although we does not know the reason, their number is ever odd.

They are predators and fierce carnivorous and the first pair of paws, the nearest to the head, it is modified to form a poisonous hook for catching and paralyzing the preys: insects, worms, spiders, larvae, bugs, Termites, mosquitoes. These hooks can also be used for defending, but their bites, for the breeds present in Italy, has got an effect very mild comparable to the bit of other insects of little dimensions. Only in the case of the Scolopendra, in some cases, are manifested vomiting, irregular pulsations, daze, headache they can penetrate into our houses looking for insects.


Scutigera coleoptrata: they belong to the order of Scutigeromorfi, their dimensions reach the 4cm, it has got 15 pairs of paws, it has an average life of 15 years. The female of the scutigera coleoptrata can be recognizable from the last pair of paws longer than the one of the other. It is the centipede that we can find in our houses, it moves at a exaggerated speed on the walls and floors, it comes out during the night hunting for insect and, particularly, mosquitoes; it is a timid breed and tend to flee if it is disturbed, it is innocuous for the human being and its bite, as a rule, is accidental and can provoke a reddening pruritus and a light swelling.

Lithobius fortificatus: centipede of the Lithobiidae’s family, it has a flattened and strong body divided in about 15 segments, they are dark-red coloured. Generally they come out during the night, while during the day they hide covered from the light under rocks and wood.

Himantanum gobrielis: it is the bigger centipede that lives in our country; particularly along the bank of the Mediterranean Sea, it can reach the lengthened of 22cm with 177 pairs of paws and has got an orange-yellow body. It lives in damp environments under rocks, moss, bark, but also inside flower vases, basements, woodsheds and sometime it comes into the houses. It is an insects and earthworms predator.


They belong to the class of chilops (centipedes), they have a light flattened body and with shining colours: yellow, violet, green, blue and dark blue, formed by about 20 hard segments united by a flexible membrane, the growing happens by moulting by reason of exoskeleton that does not grow of the same measure of the rest of the body, this last one is divided into two parts: head and trunk: on the head there are the two long antennae and at the side there are 4 ocelluses (simple eyes), while the last pair of paws is very grew and it is backward. In the areas with a temperate climate this centipede reach 10-15cm of lengthened, while the breed of scolopendras that we can find in the equatorial damp areas, can reach and exceed 30cm.

Anyhow they are organism that can commonly be found in the bushy areas, under foliage, rocks, damp and dark areas as caves and, these centipedes, can also come into the houses when the external climate become too dry or too damp. Also the scolopendras, as all the centipedes, feed of insects or, in case of bigger breeds, also of invertebrate as frogs and lizards, Mouses and bats. The poison of these centipedes contains serotonin, histamine and acetolina. Known and used as remedy for some diseases in the Chinese medicine.

More known Scolopendra breeds are:

  • Scolopendra cingulata: spread all over the area of the Mediterranean sea, Europe and also in Africa. Can be easy recognizable for the red coloured head and the last segment, while the trunk has got a dark colour. This breed is not considered dangerous for the human being, its bite can causes pain, pruritus, reddish and swelling.
  • Scolopendra gigantea: it is the bigger centipede known in the world, it reaches, but can also exceed, 30cm. it is more known as Centipedes of the Amazzonia, can be found in the south-west and northern America, in Jamaica and in the Trinidad islands. As a rule, the scolopendra gigantean, escapes at the presence of the human being, but, its bite, also if it is not lethal, can provoke heavy symptoms as high fever, sweating, weakness and infections, other than an intense pain and inflammation in the point of the bite. As al the centipedes the Scolopendra gigantea is carnivorous and very aggressive with its preys, frogs, chameleons, spiders, Mouses, birds and bats.

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