What is the Difference Between the Earthworm and Millipedes?

Earthworms vs Millipedes

At first glance, millipedes look similar to earthworms, but they are not the same species. 

Sometimes after it has rained at night, you will see many different species come out to play in your garden, or the courtyard of your home. 

Some millipedes are black and red with gold threads, and some are as red as earthworms. 

The length of them can range from several centimetres long to tens of centimetres long – with some even reaching nearly 40 centimetres in length.

Though it might surprise you to learn that some large earthworm species can also reach an average length of 30 cm!

Unlike earthworms, millipedes’ mouths have teeth. 

Some will bite, but most bites are non-toxic, and almost always non-fatal, however if the toxin they emit somehow gets in the eyes, it can cause blindness though this is rare. 

They can also release an odor or spray, which on sensitive skin can cause a rash.

Though another surprise about earthworms is that some also squirt body fluids to scare away enemies.

Earthworms vs Millipedes

Despite the similarity in appearance, Millipedes actually belong to the Arthropoda species. 

millipede on yellow background

An arthropod is closer to centipedes, while earthworms are Annelida. The two are very different.

The biggest difference, of course, is that millipedes have many legs and two pairs of feet in each section, so they crawl (instead of wriggling without legs like an earthworm does). 

Because of this, millipedes move much faster than earthworms. 

Millipedes’ habitats are mostly in shrubs and rock crevices and they are generally nocturnal, meaning they like to appear at night. 

Earthworms live mostly anywhere there is moist soil, dead plant material and they can even survive for a while in freshwater (eg after heavy rain). 

Earthworms also move more slowly than millipedes.

Another differing feature of millipedes is their defense mechanism – that is, they curl into a spiral, pretending to be dead. 

They’ll then continue on their way if and when the danger passes. 

Also different to earthworms, millipedes have a harder shell which aims to provide a protective effect against enemies. 

Earthworms have bristles on the skin instead which are non-toxic and offer basically no protection against predators. 

Instead, these are used as a sensory feature to help the worm navigate and sense danger.

The eating habits of millipedes and earthworms are quite similar. They are both nature’s decomposers. 

Earthworms decay foods and materials underground, such as animal manure, dead wood leaves, fruits and vegetables.

While millipedes mainly absorb the decaying dead wood and fallen leaves on the ground. 

Millipedes also have the habit of gnawing on seedlings, so it destroys some plants. 

Because of this, earthworms tend to be considered beneficial insects, while millipedes are more inclined to be considered pests (though worms can also fall into this category in some situations – see the advantages and disadvantages of worms). 

In Southeast Asian countries such as China, Thailand and Laos, it is customary to cook millipedes, either as a street snack or brought into a restaurant as a special delicacy. 

Earthworms are treated similarly in many countries and are actually eaten in hundreds of places around the world. Here is a look at the various dishes, recipes and where and why humans eat earthworms.

Misrecognizing Millipedes as Centipedes

Millipedes are often mistaken for centipedes. 

Centipedes, which are a typical solitary carnivore, mainly hunt small reptiles or insects. 

It also has a strong toxicity to paralyze or kill prey with its bite. 

If a person is bitten, it is mostly non-fatal but will produce slight dizziness, redness in the area and pain. 

The number of centipede’s legs are fewer than the millipede and the body has only one pair of legs per section, which is relatively long. 

There are also a pair of obvious tentacles and teeth on the head, which isn’t seen on millipedes.

It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a millipede vs a centipede and you will want to identify the difference fast! A painful centipede bite is not something you want to suffer if you don’t have to.