The other morning, a reader found a “worm” in his daughter’s bedroom. It was a thin creature, with a dark grey body and lighter colored strips. Its body was hard and about four inches long, although its normal position was a curve (in the shape of a “c”). It also completely curled into itself when disturbed. Finally – and here’s the real identifying factor – it had “hundred of tiny legs.” What was this thing?
With that description in mind, it appears that our reader is not dealing with a worm at all, but rather a centipede or millipede. We’ll briefly describe each, and then hazard a guess as to what the reader is dealing with, a centipede or a millipede.
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Since centipedes and millipedes are so alike, it is best to describe their similarities and differences with reference to each other. The most obvious similarity between millipedes and centipedes is their appearance: they simply look alike, and if you only glanced at one in passing, it would be hard to tell which is which. Neither centipedes nor millipedes are insects because they have more than six legs, but they are closely related to insects just the same. Both invertebrates have long segmented bodies with legs attached to each segment, so they move along surfaces in a similar fashion.
Now some differences: despite the fact that they move in a similar way, centipedes are faster, making them harder to catch (which you might want to do if they are in your house, e.g.). Centipedes also tend to have fewer legs than millipedes, as each body segment of a centipede has only one set of legs, whereas millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment. Another difference between the two involves their antennae. Both have them, but centipedes have long, slender antennae; millipede antennae, in contrast, are considerably shorter. Of course, there are many additional similarities and differences, but the above covers the basics.
So, was our reader dealing with a centipede or millipede? For three reasons, most likely the latter. First, most millipedes range in color from brown to black, which is consistent with the gray color of the reader’s description. Second, millipedes, and not centipedes, are known for curling up in a tight coil when disturbed. Third, the reader describes the creature he saw as having hundreds of legs. While this may be an an exaggeration (although not necessarily – some millipedes do actually have hundreds of legs), millipedes have more legs than centipedes, as we mentioned above, meaning that a creature with “hundreds” of legs is more likely to be a millipede than a centipede.
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What kind of millipede? This is an extremely hard question to answer, especially without any pictures of the creature in question, and even if we had pictures, it would still be hard to tell exactly what we’re looking at. Many different types of millipedes look and act quite similar, so it takes a specialist to delineate between different types of millipedes. That said, it is possible that our reader is dealing with Julus scandinavius, which sometimes has a dark gray body. That’s as far as we’re willing to guess, though.