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Caterpillars and centipedes are two very different creatures often found around your home. Although both have long, worm-like bodies and multiple sets of legs, that is where the similarities end. Caterpillars vary in color and are usually plump and round; many are covered in hairs. Centipedes are usually reddish-brown with a flattened body.
Classification and Diet
Caterpillars are insects in the order Lepidopterae that consists of moths and butterflies. They are herbivores, dining on a variety of plants, depending on their species. Centipedes are arthropods -- not insects -- in the class Chilopoda. They are carnivorous, mostly feeding on small insects such as cockroaches, spiders and carpet beetle larvae.
Butterflies and moths go through four stages in life: egg, larva, pupa and adult. A caterpillar is a butterfly or moth in the larva stage in life. Caterpillars go on to the pupa stage and undergo metamorphosis into an adult moth or butterfly. Centipedes have three life stages: egg, larva and adult. The centipedes are mature animals, having already gone through the larval stage of life.
Caterpillars only have three pairs of true legs. These legs are located at the front of the body and are segmented with a claw on the end. The true legs are the only ones that remain when the caterpillar transitions to a moth or butterfly. In addition, they have up to five pairs of cylindrical prolegs with a hook on the end to help with locomotion. Although the name centipede implies that the creature has 100 legs, most common house centipedes only have 15 pairs of legs. Some species may have as many as 177 pairs.
The various species of caterpillar utilize different defensive strategies to protect themselves. Most caterpillars are well camouflaged in their natural environment, making them difficult to spot by predators. Some species, such as the saddleback and puss caterpillars, are toxic to predators who touch the stinging hair on the caterpillar. Centipedes are armed with a pair of venomous claws. While the venom easily paralyzes prey, the claws are rarely strong enough to break through human skin.
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- University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Managing Centipedes and Millipedes
- Pennsylvania State University: House Centipedes
- Orkin: Centipede Facts, Identification and Control
- Orkin: Centipede Facts, Identification & Control
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