There are 57 species of centipede in Great Britain, and 64 species of millipede. Globally there are around 2,500 species of centipede, and 10,000 species of millipede. Millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment whereas centipedes have one pair. Millipedes feed on decaying plant material and are important recyclers in an ecosystem, where as centipedes are carnivorous which kill their prey with venomous claws, feeding on other minibeasts like spiders and insects, and even slugs.
The symphylans, which have their own class called Symphyla, are also called garden centipedes. They are similar to centipedes but are smaller and whitish, and are often found in greenhouses as well as in soil. They have 11 or 12 pairs of legs, and lack poison claws.
Centipedes, millipedes and symphylans all come under Myriapoda which translates to ‘many-feet’. Although the impression of these invertebrates is that they possess thousands of feet, they of course do not. One species of millipede has 750 legs, but most have less than 50. Centipedes generally have between 15 and 101 pairs of legs, although some beyond the UK can have as many as 181.
Habitats for these tiny creatures can be varied, and they can be found in woodland and gardens for example. They can be found amongst rotting vegetation, in soil, under loose bark, beneath logs, and under rocks and stones.
Class Chilopoda – Centipedes
Class Diplopoda – Millipedes
Class Symphyla – Symphylans
Many thanks to Warren Maguire and Steve Gregory for their expert assistance in identifying and reconfirming species.
For further reference see the links and literature below:
British Myriapod and Isopod Group (BMIG)
Facebook Isopods and Myriapods of Britain and Ireland Group
The AIDGAP publication Key to the identification of British Centipedes is also a very good reference guide.