18 Kinds of Centipedes & Millipedes in the United States!

Did you see a centipede in the United States?

Many people consider these strange creatures to be some sort of mutant worms, but luckily, they’re not. 🙂

In truth, millipedes and centipedes are much more closely related to marine animals like lobsters, crayfish, and shrimp. The biggest difference is that millipedes and centipedes are land dwellers.

Having them around your house is a huge benefit despite their creepy appearance. Centipedes eat silverfish, cockroaches, spiders, and other household insects; millipedes, on the other hand, ingest dead material they encounter, an important step in the food chain that helps keep us fed! They also carry no diseases affecting people, animals, or plants.

18 centipedes and millipedes found in the United States:

#1. Black and Gold Flat Millipede

  • Apheloria virginiensis

This millipede is pale yellow on the underside with black body segments fringed in bright yellow. Some morphs have a bright orange-red fringe around the entire body. It also has antennae that are about twice as long as its legs.

Black and Gold Flat Millipedes are about 5 cm (2 in) long. They’re slow-moving and curl up like a potato bug when threatened. You’ll likely find them in your mulch piles or anywhere that organic litter accumulates.

Like other millipedes, this species eats poop, decomposing animals, small insects, mulch, moist wood, and fallen leaves. They are great at keeping your garden from accumulating leaf litter! If you find one indoors, coax it into a container and put it back outside. It’ll be happier there.

The Black and Gold Flat Millipede is generally harmless to humans. However, is does have a cyanide-based defensive poison that can cause skin or eye irritation. If you touch one, wash your hands right away to avoid any itchiness.

#2. Bumblebee Millipede

  • Anadenobolus monilicornis

Incredibly, the Bumblebee Millipede is a favorite pet among collectors! I can’t say it would be one I would keep – I prefer my dog. 🙂

Their name comes from the distinctive dark brown and yellow striped body sections, which gives them the appearance of an earthworm in a bee costume. Look for them in leaf litter, which is their favorite habitat. They eat the decomposing plant material found here.

This millipede in the United States is not native.

Instead, it came from the Caribbean and was transported here in ornamental plant shipments. Despite its large numbers, the Bumblebee Millipede doesn’t pose a threat to native plants or animals.

#3. Desert Millipede

  • Orthoporus ornatus

Most mature Desert Millipedes are about 10 cm (4 in) long, but some can reach an incredible 23 cm (9 in). They’re usually dark brown to sandy yellow, depending on what color desert they inhabit.

Their primary food source is the bacteria in decaying animal and plant matter. You might find that diet gross, but it’s vital to its desert habitat. The desert ecosystems where these millipedes live in the United States would collapse without them!

They prefer damp soil deep underground, where there is plenty of decaying material. After a rainstorm, they venture to the surface until the soil dries again and then head back underground.

In addition to providing food, the Desert Millipede’s underground habitat offers protection from heat, sunlight, and predators. And despite its toxicity, 13 predators are known to eat them, including Millipede Assassin Bugs, spiders, ants, birds, and domesticated chickens.

#4. Florida Ivory Millipede

  • Chicobolus spinigerus

This is considered a “giant” among millipedes in the United States. 

Florida Ivory Millipedes grow to about 10 cm (4 in) as adults. They’re recognizable for the black-and-white color pattern most common in the species. However, some individuals are bright purple instead of black.

Florida Ivory Millipedes usually live between five to ten years. They spend most of their time underground, searching for their main food source, bacteria. Wood, decomposing leaf litter, and poop are their main bacteria sources in the wild.

#5. Georgia Flat-backed Millipede

  • Cherokia georgiana

The Georgia Flat-backed Millipede is black with yellow legs and three yellow dots on each body segment. They have antennae that are about twice as long as their legs. Notably, it can vary in color: although most specimens are yellow, some are red or orange.

In addition to their color variations, Georgia Flat-backed Millipedes range in size in the United States. Interestingly, the size variation is related to altitude, with the smaller versions living at higher altitudes and larger specimens living closer to sea level.

Differences in size and coloring can make it difficult to identify this species and track its range. As a result, a Citizen Science campaign was started on social media to locate specimens of these creatures in new areas. This expanded their habitat to include a much broader range than originally thought.

#6. Greenhouse Millipede

  • Oxidus gracilis

Greenhouse Millipedes are found all over the United States. They originated in Japan and were carried to the Americas and Eurasia during trading expeditions. They’re around 23mm (1 in) long.

These millipedes are different looking than many of their cousins. They’re largely black or brown on top, with white legs. However, instead of having a round, tubular body of plates that integrate smoothly, they appear rather bumpy. 

Greenhouse Millipedes also have an interesting trick. Recall that millipedes are related to lobsters, crayfish, and shrimp, yet there are no water-dwelling millipedes because they lack gills. However, this species can retain a bubble of air around their spiracles and spend an extraordinary amount of time underwater.

Unlike other species, the Greenhouse Millipede doesn’t have eyes, instead relying on its antenna to find food, locate mates, and perform other essential functions. They give off a particularly noxious odor when threatened. They’re poisonous to predators, so very few things consume them. Luckily, they’re not dangerous to humans, provided you don’t eat a handful of them!

#7. Leach’s Millipede

  • Euryurus leachii

Leach’s Millipedes are mostly dark brown or even black. They have white legs, orange to red dots on each body segment, and antennae that are roughly twice as long as their legs. The armor plates overhang the body on their side, forming a protective shell around the millipede.

The best place to find a Leach’s Millipede in the United States is on the ground.

Usually, they live near a water source and spend their time under fallen logs. Leaf litter alone is not attractive to them, so look in spots with branches or trees. Additionally, they avoid pine trees because of the aromatic chemicals that can cause them damage.

#8. Long-Flange Millipede

  • Asiomorpha coarctata

Look for Long-Flange Millipedes in the United States in sub-tropical areas, including the Gulf Coast. They also inhabit the West Indies and even the isolated Galápagos Islands.

Native to Southeast Asia, these millipedes have been spread through the import and export business. Fortunately, they don’t significantly impact the habitats where they are introduced. Instead, they fulfill a vital function no matter where they end up, releasing minerals back into circulation to keep the food chain going.

They range from 1.4-2.8 cm (0.55-1.1 in) long. They’re dark brown to black with a large yellow flange on each body segment. The legs are reddish brown.

#9. Rusty Millipede

  • Trigoniulus corallinus

Rusty Millipedes are pinkish brown to brick red and larger than many millipede species. Because of these traits, they are easily mistaken for earthworms. The faint black stripes on its sides look like shadows, and the segments appear wormlike. Once you see their legs in action, however, you’ll know this is a millipede and no common worm.

This species has the honor of being the very first millipede to have its genome sequenced in 2015. This sequence was important in understanding the link between animals like lobsters, crabs, and millipedes and gave a much greater understanding of arthropods as a group!

Most millipedes, including Rusty Millipedes, get along very well with other species. They’re incredibly social (for a bug!) and rarely fight with each other as long as sufficient food and resources exist.

#10. Yellow-Legged Millipede

  • Pleuroloma flavipes

Also known as the North American Millipede and the Flat-backed Millipede.

Yellow-Legged Millipedes are sometimes called Wandering Cherry Millipedes because they often move en masse with thousands of individuals, looking like a cherry-colored mat undulating its way across the landscape.

The Yellow-Legged Millipede is common in the eastern United States.

It can be found in various habitats, including under fallen branches, logs, and trees, but they avoid coniferous trees. Incredibly, they fluoresce brightly under UV light.

This species is a little more adventurous than most millipedes, often venturing into open land and fields. So if there is detritus to be consumed, they’ll be there, recycling our environmental waste and keeping our food chain running.

These are generally a medium reddish brown with yellow stripes running from edge to edge. Naturally, they have bright yellow legs as well.

#11. Yellow-Spotted Millipede

  • Harpaphe haydeniana

Yellow-spotted Millipedes grow up to 5 cm (2 in) long. Adults can have up to 20 body segments! They usually start with six segments and add a new segment with each molt.

This social species meet up in the tens of thousands to mate all in one spot and then go their separate ways. Unlike other millipedes in the United States, Yellow-spotted Millipedes eat conifer leaves (pine needles) that many others avoid. They prefer moist coastal areas with redwood forests. 

Two alternative names for this species tell us a lot about its defense mechanism. It’s often called the Almond-Scented Millipede and, more accurately, the Cyanide Millipede. This powerful poison coats the millipede’s skin, giving it a bitter-almond scent. Most predators steer clear!

Although the concentration of Cyanide is enough to kill a hungry pigeon, the dose is not particularly harmful to humans if you wash your hands after handling them.


#12. Brown Centipede

  • Lithobius forficatus

Brown Centipedes are 18-30 mm (0.7-1.1 in) long and dark reddish-brown, like a chestnut. They have very long antennae and a matching tail to confuse you as to which end is the front! Of course, the head appears bigger than any single body segment, so you can always tell; the exaggerated size comes from the oversized fangs next to the head. Those fangs deliver a venom that is highly poisonous (if you’re an insect).

Slugs, worms, spiders, and flies make up the bulk of this species’ diet. Its leg count will top out at 15 pairs when fully grown.

Brown Centipedes like to hunt in the United States at night and hide during the day. If they’re not doing you the courtesy of keeping your home pest free, they may be out in your garden doing the job there instead. They frequent compost heaps where other prey may be found or seek food on tree bark that provides a home to insects. They don’t eat plants, but they do eat things that eat your plants, lending the nickname “Gardener’s Friend.”

#13. Common Desert Centipede

  • Scolopendra polymorpha

The Common Desert Centipede is a pale orangey-brown color with lateral black stripes. However, it can have several different colorations, giving rise to another common name, the Multicolored Centipede. Its head and tail tip are usually more orange than the rest of the body.

The rare color morphs can be exceptional, though. For example, individuals may be pale blue with purple stripes and turquoise legs, despite being the same species.

They may be pretty, but it’s best to avoid this centipede in the United States.

The bite of the Common Desert Centipede is one of the most painful bites possible from an arthropod. Much worse than a wasp sting, it has been compared to the Bullet Ant Sting and will almost certainly send you to the emergency room. The venom spreads after the initial bite, and the pain worsens until you seek treatment.

This centipede is unlikely to kill you, but it can cause localized tissue necrosis around the wound. Some call it the most painful bite in the world. Despite its ill effects, it can still be useful in medical applications. Elements of the venom have antimicrobial properties against many diseases that can make humans sick, including E. coli.

#14. Eastern Bark Centipede

  • Hemiscolopendra marginata

The Eastern Bark Centipede grows to 75 mm (3 in) long. They have olive-colored plates with a black fringe and a  thin black stripe down their entire length. The legs and antennae are pale, translucent yellow, while the head is brownish red. However, the same species can also be pale to dark blue or greyish-brown. Black, green, or blue fringe surrounds the armor plates.

Interestingly, this species is the only centipede in the United States known to have sexually dimorphic venom. This means that males and females of the species have different types of toxins, similar to how male and female birds often look wildly different.

Male Eastern Bark Centipedes have venom that interferes with bodily functions. However, venom from females is shown to which break down cell membranes. Either way, you should steer clear of its bite!

#15. Eastern Red Centipede

  • Scolopocryptops sexspinosus

As its name suggests, the Eastern Red Centipede is uniformly red on all its top surfaces. It has light-colored legs. Growing up to 6.5 cm (2.5 in), you might think this centipede is harmless, but they are noted for their painful bite, like some of their larger relatives.

Unlike other centipedes that get along quite well, the Eastern Red Centipede will eat smaller centipedes in the United States, as well as earthworms, spiders, and insects. It is fast and agile, making it a great hunter.  

In their territory, they can be found under just about any moist object, such as wood, stone, bark, or flowerpots. They burrow in loose dirt, chunky bark, or just about any moist forest litter. This is not a species you’re likely to find in your house since it’s much too dry for this creature!

#16. Giant Desert Centipede

  • Scolopendra heros

Look for the Giant Desert Centipede in the United States in hot, arid climates with sandy soil. Sometimes its whole body is reddish, including the body, head, and tail, while sometimes, it is nearly all black with a red head and tail.

Nevertheless, in every case, it has bright yellow legs, so predators know it is dangerous. Its food consists of amphibians, rodents, and reptiles, but also flies, which it captures by raising the front of its body into the air!

The venom of the Giant Desert Centipede is not lethal but can cause incredible pain. Kidney failure and heart attacks have happened with severe bites, but there are no recorded deaths. It contains cardiotoxic proteins, histamines, serotonin, and cytolysin, which break down cellular membranes, killing specific cells.

In addition to being venomous, this species moves quickly and is relatively large. Giant Desert Centipedes can grow up to 20 cm (8 in) long.

#17. House Centipede

  • Scutigera coleoptrata

This species is the most common centipede in homes in the United States!

They’re yellow-grey, with three stripes running down their backs. You might consider them racing stripes with how fast they can scoot along!

The legs are thick and powerful near the body but taper toward the ends, contributing greatly to their ability to zip after prey. Their antennae are extraordinarily long to help them sense their next meal. Incredibly, the two “decoy” antennae on their back end aren’t just there to fool predators; they’re actual antennae that function just like the front ones!

House Centipedes may look creepy, but they can be a useful houseguest. Their favorite foods include insects and spiders, but they’re fast enough to catch and eat houseflies and grasshoppers, too. In addition, they like damp environments,  which is why basements and garages are so attractive to them.

Outside, you’ll find them in damp spaces that stay cool, such as woodpiles, rocky areas with good hiding places, prey-stalking lookout points, or piles of leaf litter. If you have a compost pile, they’ll be there!

#18. Soil Centipedes

  • Order: Geophilomorpha
Soil Centipedes aren’t a single species in the United States but a massive family with too many members to mention. Instead, it is more useful to note that leg pairs vary from 27 to 191 (54 to 382 individual legs) depending on the species.

Their coloring can range from white to reddish brown, and they’re slender to aid their movement through the soil. These creatures are a bit flatter than most centipedes. Since they spend most of their time underground, Soil Centipedes have no eyes.

They move through the soil like an earthworm, pushing the front of their body forward and dragging the back towards it before repeating the process. Their goal is to find insect larvae and earthworms to eat, and they use fangs like all centipedes do to capture their prey.

They can range in size from incredibly tiny to monstrously large. The smallest individuals are 1.9 cm (0.75 in), and the largest is 19 cm (7.48 in).  Luckily, since they live in soil, you’re unlikely to find this type of centipede inside your home.

Soil Centipedes provide a huge benefit that you might not have thought of – managing soil quality! These bugs digest and release nutrients otherwise trapped in waste for years. Their burrowing also aerates the soil, like earthworms, which allows water, nutrients, and minerals to reach plant roots more effectively. So even though they’re creepy, we should be grateful they exist!

Which of these centipedes have you seen before in the United States?


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*To explore more of the centipedes and millipedes that have been found near you, check out iNaturalist!

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