Centipedes and millipedes are distant relatives of lobsters, crayfish and shrimp. Unlike their marine cousins, centipedes and millipedes are land dwellers, but they do prefer moist habitats or areas of high humidity.
Centipedes and millipedes do not carry diseases to man or to his animals and plants. They are usually considered nuisances rather than destructive pests. Centipedes pose an occasional threat to man because they have poison glands and will bite. Millipedes occasionally damage seedling plants by feeding on stems and leaves.
There are many kinds of centipedes but all of them are more or less wormlike and have a flattened body. The largest centipede inhabits the tropics of Central America. Scolopendra gigantca is its name and when fully mature will attain a length of 12 inches. A closely related centipede, Scolopendra heros, occurs in Texas and may be over 5 inches long when full grown.
Like all centipedes Scolopendra can inflict a painful bite with a pair of poison claws located directly under the head. These poison claws, once a pair of walking legs, have undergone a drastic change over thousands of years and are now used for capturing and killing their prey instead of walking. So complete is the change and so close is the association with the head, the claws now appear to be mouth parts.
Most centipedes can only bite with their poison claws located directly under the head; however, Scolopendra can harm a person with the sharp claws of its many walking legs. Each walking leg is tipped with a sharp claw capable of making tiny cuts in human skin. A poison produced from the attachment point of each leg may be dropped into the wounds resulting in an inflamed and irritated condition. The best rule of thumb is NEVER HANDLE CENTIPEDES.
Millipedes differ from centipedes in that most body segments are more round and bear two pairs of appendages on each segment instead of one. The head is rounded with short antennae and does not contain poison jaws.
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