Centipedes

Centipedes are predatory animals belonging to the class Chilopoda. Part of a healthy garden ecosystem and some of the invertebrates they consume consume will be those that can feed on garden plants.

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Snake centipede (Stigmatogaster subterranea)

Quick facts

Common name Centipedes
Latin name Class Chilopoda
Role in gardens Predators

What are centipedes?

Centipedes, like millipedes, have long segmented bodies with many legs and the two groups are often confused.  A simple method of separating them is to count the legs: centipedes have one pair per body segment whereas millipedes have two pairs per segment.

Nearly 50 species of centipede have been recorded in Britain, some of which are confined to glasshouses or the seashore. Most British species of centipede are brown or yellowish and tend to move rapidly when disturbed. Two types of body form are commonly encountered in gardens. The snake centipedes (e.g. Geophilus species) have bodies up to 60mm long and 2mm wide. They are pale yellow or orange-brown and move with a snake-like motion through the soil. The other type (e.g. brown and banded centipedes Lithobius species) are shorter and broader, up to 30mm long and 4mm wide. They are orange-brown and live on the soil surface, often being found under stones or logs. Centipedes are sometimes confused with beetle larvae known as wireworms that feed on plant roots. Wireworms are stiff-bodied, orange-yellow beetle larvae that have only three pairs of small legs at the head end of the body.

Biology

As predators centipedes are part of the natural balance in a garden and can consume many other invertebrates.

Centipedes breed in the spring and summer when they lay batches of eggs in cavities in the soil. Newly hatched centipedes closely resemble the adults but need to go through many moults before they reach adult size. It takes two to three years to reach maturity and a centipede can live for five to six years.

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