Caterpillar vs Centipede: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: October 6, 2022
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Caterpillars are a common, welcome sight in home gardens around the world. After all, most of them turn into beautiful butterflies or moths after they undergo their metamorphosis. Centipedes are another crawling creature, but they are not as welcome in people’s homes or gardens. Although both creatures have similar-looking bodies, caterpillars are insects and centipedes are arthropods, and they are both very distinct beings.  We’re going to show you the differences between a caterpillar vs centipede so you can understand how these creatures are unique from one another.  

Comparing a Caterpillar vs Centipede

Caterpillars are the larva form of moths and butterflies while centipedes are complete anthropods.
Diet– Herbivorous
– Eats leaves, plants, and parts of flowers
– Carnivorous
Eats insects, spiders, and worms
– Larger species can ear animals like mice, bats, and birds
Morphology– Indistinct head that appears to be part of the body
– Rounded body shape similar to a worm
– Horns that stand out in some species  
– Distinct head
– Flat body shape – Long, obvious mandibles
– Antennae that stick out  
ExoskeletonSoft and somewhat flexible exoskeleton– Hard, tough exoskeleton
Legs– 6 legsBetween 15 and 177 pairs of legs
DevelopmentIncomplete, will enter a chrysalis and become a moth or butterflyAlready a complete anthropod that will simply grow larger and longer over time
DefensesVenomous stinging hairsA venomous bite that is not fatal to humans

The 7 Key Differences Between a Caterpillar vs Centipede

Animals With Exoskeletons-Centipede

Centipedes have a distinct head and long antennae compared to caterpillars


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The most noticeable differences between a caterpillar vs centipede include their morphology, diet, and development. Caterpillars have round bodies with indistinct heads, small antennae, and horns in some species. On the other hand, centipedes have flat bodies, a distinct head, and prominent antennae that stick out very far from their body.

Besides, caterpillars have fewer legs than centipedes. While caterpillars are herbivores, centipedes are carnivores. Caterpillars are classified as insects, (although they are the larvae form of butterflies) but centipedes are classified as anthropods. And lastly, centipedes don’t go through metamorphosis whereas centipedes do.

These are the most significant differences between these organisms, but we are also going to explore several other facets of these creatures that set them apart.  

Caterpillar vs Centipede: Species

There are many more species of caterpillars than there are species of centipedes. Currently, over 21,000 different species of caterpillar have been identified around the world.

However, just 3,000 species of centipedes have been recorded. Yet, it is estimated that 8,000 species of centipedes might exist around the world.  Although both creatures are very numerous, caterpillars are much more diverse.  

Caterpillar vs Centipede: Diet


Caterpillars eat leaves, plants, and flower parts


Caterpillars are herbivorous insects, but centipedes are carnivorous arthropods. Most caterpillars eat leaves, various plants, and parts of flowers from which they can derive nutrition. Centipedes prefer to eat other animals, insects, arthropods, and more.  

While most centipedes are small and will use their speed and venom to hunt down their quarry, some of them are quite large. In fact, some centipedes are large enough to attack and kill mice, bats, and birds. However, these are not the types of centipedes that most people find in their homes.

Centipedes play a vital role in the ecosystem, killing and eating bugs that can infest a home. Still, that does not mean everyone should welcome them into their homes with open arms because centipedes come with some baggage in the form of painful bites.  

Caterpillar vs Centipede: Morphology

Caterpillars are worm-like creatures with legs, an indistinct head that appears to be an extension of a body segment, small antennae, and horns in some cases. Their bodies are very different than centipedes which have a flat body shape, a distinct head, long mandibles that can be seen grabbing prey, and long antennae.

Some caterpillars, including the largest caterpillar known as the hickory horned devil, have obvious horns on the top of their head. Yet, their antennae are smaller relative to their bodies than centipedes’ antennae.

Caterpillar vs Centipede: Exoskeleton

Caterpillars have a relatively soft exoskeleton compared to a centipede. Caterpillars have a squishy body unless they’re very large. Centipedes have a tough, hard, chitinous exoskeleton.

The soft exoskeletons allow some caterpillars to use an “inching” type of locomotion rather than a crawling type of locomotion. Centipedes are less flexible, and they use a skittering crawling motion as their primary means of locomotion.  

Caterpillar vs Centipede: Legs

Biggest centipede - a close up on the legs of centipedes

Centipedes can have over 100 legs!

©Marshall Barker/

Centipedes have many more legs than caterpillars. As insects, caterpillars have six legs, but centipedes are arthropods. That means they can have anywhere between 15 pairs of legs and 177 pairs of legs. It is possible that some undiscovered species could have even more legs!

The multiple pairs of legs that centipedes possess allow them to scurry about rather quickly. In fact, they are many times faster than the average caterpillar. Their speed and agility are important for helping these arthropods attack their prey and avoid predators such as birds and humans.

Caterpillar vs Centipede: Development

monarch caterpillar life cycle


monarch butterfly caterpillar

takes about three to eight days to incubate.


Caterpillars are insects that go through a metamorphosis and become moths or butterflies. Centipedes are individual creatures that spend their entire lives scurrying about on the ground. They do not undergo any rapid transformations in their lives.

Caterpillar vs Centipede: Defenses

Centipede Bite - Irritation from Centipede Bite

Centipedes can deliver a painful, but non-fatal bite to humans

©popular business/

Caterpillars have weaker defenses as a species compared with a centipede. Some caterpillars, but not all, have stinging hairs that protrude from their body. These hairs are venomous. They will cause mild irritation in human beings, but they can outright kill other creatures.

Centipedes are known for their venomous bite that helps them incapacitate and kill their prey. Centipedes are not hostile, and they will rarely bite humans. However, centipedes can issue a painful bite, but their venom is not strong enough to be fatal to a human being. The only times that a centipede bite might be fatal is if the individual has an allergy to their venom.

All in all, centipedes and caterpillars are very different organisms. Caterpillars are insects and centipedes are arthropods. Yet, the differences between these creatures go much deeper. Caterpillars are often the early stages of a butterfly or moth. They’re soft creatures that don’t frighten people as much as the hard-bodied, skittering, and carnivorous centipede.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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