Centipedes and Millipedes
We are all familiar with these long cylindrical animals running across the soil in our gardens when we disturb a pot or some vegetation; their many segmented legs carrying them swiftly to safety. But how many of us really know what a centipede or a millipede actually is? Superficially they may look like the same species, but there are many differences. For this Living World, Chris Sperring heads off into the Oxfordshire countryside with Myriapod specialist Steve Gregory on a personal quest to find out more.
On suitably damp and overcast autumnal day Chris discovers there are remarkable differences in the ecology of the predatory centipede and the unrelated dead wood specialist the millipede. It turns out that centipedes and millipedes are as distantly related from its other as they are from spiders or flies. Learning that the easiest way to tell them apart is that centipedes are fast moving and have one pair of legs per body segment, Steve then reveals that Millipedes have two pair of legs on each body segment and are much slower when disturbed, often rolling up into coil or ball.
Distantly related land dwellers of lobsters and crayfish centipedes and millipedes have evolved to a life on the land, one of the oldest terrestrial fossil is a millipede, but they are more at home in moist leaf litter or behind rotting bark where they can hide away from predators during the day, coming out at night to feed. Autumn is a perfect time to look for these cylindrical species so beginning in a beech woodland the programme moves to an ancient wood near the banks of the River Thames where Steve reveals how well adapted these two species are to this moist habitat and how important they are in the life cycle and health of our woodland and garden ecology.