The Difference Between Centipedes and Millipedes

Of all the creepy crawlies that can be found in southern Florida, perhaps two of the most seen and hated are centipedes and millipedes. And while the two species are often discussed interchangeably, they are actually two very different types of arthropods – and the differences go far beyond just the number of legs that they have.

First, it is important to point out the similarities that these two types of arthropods have. For instance, they are both from the group Myriapoda. They also both have segmented bodies, numerous legs, and breath through spiracles, which are openings on the surface of their bodies that lead to their respiratory systems. While the two species are from the same group in the animal kingdom, it’s important to note that there are more than 13,000 species within the group Myriapoda, with an almost infinite amount of variation between them.

Centipedes are further classified into the class of Chilopoda, while millipedes are placed into the class of Diplopoda. Species in the class of Chilopoda are flexible and have flattened appearances, while those in the class of Diplopoda are more rigid and sub-cylindrical in shape. It’s also important to note here that neither centipedes nor millipedes are insects, though they are often mistakenly referred to as such. Insects are classified as only have three pairs of legs, one pair on each segment, while both centipedes and millipedes have many segments, with one or two pairs of legs on each, respectively. There is also no set number of legs with centipedes and millipedes, and there will usually be a lot of variation between specific species of each.

You’ve probably seen both centipedes and millipedes inside your home at some point, especially if you live in Florida, where both are considered to be household pests. You probably find millipedes to be far more innocent than centipedes, however, as they are incredibly slow moving and generally harmless. Their legs are also not visible unless you get very close to them, they are not capable of biting, and they feed only on decaying organic matter. While understandably a nuisance inside your home, these creatures are considered a very ecologically important part of the environment.

Centipedes, on the other hand, are a different story. Even while having fewer legs than millipedes, they are incredibly fast movers, a fact which is accentuated by the fact that their legs veer off from the sides of their bodies and trail backwards and are highly visible in comparison to the legs of millipedes. Centipedes also have to be handled carefully because they bite, releasing a venom into their prey which in rare cases can cause allergic reactions in humans.

You may think you’ve seen enough of these critters in your houses but we promise, both centipedes and millipedes are a lot more interesting in the Everglades, where on an airboat ride you run the chance of spotting a few alongside alligators, snakes, and birds in every color of the rainbow. Don’t miss your chance to experience the Florida Everglades on a safe, yet thrilling airboat tour today.

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Widows of the Everglades

The Florida Everglades is an area that is certainly not without its creepy crawlies, and one can never talk about the most fascinating, yet terrifying, creatures of the Everglades without mentioning some of the spiders that can be found there. Fortunately, of the hundreds, if not thousands, of species of spiders that can be found in the Everglades, only a very small number of them are venomous to humans.

The most commonly found venomous spider that can be found in the Everglades is the black widow, a species that is found throughout the southeastern United States and as far north as Ohio. They are quite distinctive in appearance, with females having large, black bodies with a red hourglass design in the center. There are other types of widow spiders, most notably the brown widow and the red widow, both of which can be found in southern Florida in addition to their more famous cousin. Both of these spiders are also considered poisonous, though less so than the black widow.

All species in the widow family get their names from a unique behavior performed by the females – after mating, they will occasionally kill the males. This may explain why female black widow spiders have a lifespan of up to three years, while males are lucky to live three days. This may also explain their great variation in size and appearance. Female black widows are shiny and black, reaching lengths of around 1.5 inches, and containing the famous red hourglass pattern – although in many individuals it will be more orange in color and not resemble an hourglass at all. Males, on the other hand, rarely exceed 0.25 inches in length and are more purple in color, lacking any red or orange pattern completely.

While the practice of black widow mating is creepy in itself, the practice of cannibalism within the species does not stop there. While a female black widow can lay more than 3,000 eggs during a single summer breeding season, it is estimated that only around thirty survive to the first molting. Why? Because of lack of shelter or food initially, but most creepily because of their tendency to turn to each other as sources of food during times of scarcity.

Fortunately, while black widow venom is toxic to humans, it is very seldom fatal. It is, however, along with their particularly strong webs, highly effective at catching and subduing their intended prey, which typically consists of small insects, centipedes, millipedes, and other spiders. Once their prey has become entangled in their webs, webs which are strong enough to even capture small rodents at times, the widow spider will bite its victim and inject it with its venom. Once the prey has succumbed to the venom, which usually takes about ten minutes, the widow will carry it back to its nest to feed on.

Spiders are definitely one of the most feared creatures in the animal kingdom, and black widows and their close cousins are absolutely among the creepiest of the bunch. It’s likely that you’d prefer not to see any on an Everglades swamp tour with your family, and chances are good that you won’t – these species are incredibly shy and non-aggressive, despite the bad rap that they’ve been given. Everglades airboat tours are, however, a great chance to see much of Florida’s wildlife up close, and are not to be missed when visiting Florida this season.

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How Do Hurricanes Affect Florida Wildlife?

Even though Hurricane Erika may have lost its steam before hitting southern Florida this past weekend, its the perfect time to think about how a hurricane might have affected the Florida Everglades, and more specifically the wildlife that can be found here. Usually following a hurricane, a large majority of the media coverage is centered around ways that human beings were affected by the storm – through loss of life or home – but not much attention is given to the local wildlife. Sadly, a hurricane can be detrimental to wildlife and nature, affecting everything from the fish in the waters, to the birds in the skies, to the plants that form the structure for it all.

Strong winds and water can dislocate individuals and even small populations. Dolphins and manatees have been washed or blown ashore during strong storms, but it is perhaps birds that take the biggest hit. Strong winds can separate flocks and isolate individuals, but can also blow large groups of birds completely off course, leaving them hundreds of miles from their homes.

Strong winds and water can destroy habitats. Both the unwelcome erosion caused by storm surges and the loss of trees, and even entire forests, from fast moving winds can have detrimental affects on the local wildlife. Not only do many species lose their homes and shelter during these times, but because high winds can also strip trees of their nuts and fruits, many lose important food sources as well.

Saltwater and freshwater areas can mix and be thrown off balance. Species are typically heavily adapted and accustomed to the delicate balance of salinity in their usual environments. During storm surges, large amounts of saltwater are pushed inland into freshwater rivers and lakes while heavy rains can overwhelm river basins and cause freshwater to flood the oceans, putting a great deal of pressure on species to survive in their drastically changed environments.

Rainfall and run-off can pollute oceans and streams. The mixing of freshwater and saltwater is not the only thing that can harm the oceans and its wildlife during and after a hurricane. Heavy rain and its run-off through populated areas back into oceans and streams can pollute marine environments and coastal areas that had previously been healthy and vibrant.

Strong weather can cause direct injury to wildlife. Fast winds and rough waves can cause direct harm to local wildlife, though marine life is arguably the worst to suffer. During the violent conditions produced by category 5 hurricane Andrew in 1992, it was estimated that more than 180 million fish were killed in the Everglades and close to another 10 million in the oceans offshore.

The next time a hurricane or tropical storm is making its way to Florida, take a moment to think about Florida’s native creatures and how resilient these species are to have survived through millions of years of stormy weather in Florida. And, you can always enjoy the local wildlife in good weather by taking an airboat tour through the Everglades with Captain Mitch and his crew. Everglades airboat rides are not just educational, but fun for the whole family too!

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The red-bellied woodpecker may be one of the loudest species of birds that can be found in the Florida Everglades today. Like many of the species that can be found within the woodpecker family, this tiny, yet beautiful bird, was given the name “woodpecker” for a reason. They are true professionals when it comes to drilling holes into wood, utilizing their strong beaks in this way for purposes ranging from foraging for food to leaving warning messages outside of their dens.

The name of the red-bellied woodpecker, however, is quite misleading, as it is not the belly of this species of woodpecker that is red at all, but the cap of its head. Unfortunately, the name “red-headed woodpecker” was already taken by a close relative in the woodpecker family, so the red-bellied woodpecker had to settle for something slightly less descriptive. They are quite attractive birds, however, with gray or tan feathers on their faces and bellies and white and black barred patterns on their wings. They are also quite petite birds, only reaching lengths of about 10 inches and with wingspans no more than 18 inches long.

Like most, if not all woodpecker species, the red-bellied woodpecker is most known by its loud vocalizations and drumming behaviors. Both males and females will both call and drum, communicating with others of their species who are nearby. Males, however, do have a tendency to drum more than females, and this behavior is often associated with the attraction of a mate. These intense vocalizations start almost at birth for these woodpeckers, as babies will call for food from their parents when they are just fledglings.

When feeding, a red-bellied woodpecker will use its incredibly strong beak as a powerful tool, either probing into cracks in the wood or drilling its own holes when no cracks exist. Once food has been located, the woodpecker will use its long tongue to pull it out, usually feeding on either small insects or food previously stored by other animals deep within the wood. Like many other birds, red-bellied woodpeckers will then exhibit foraging behavior themselves by later storing this food in their own private locations.

Red-bellied woodpeckers also depend on dead and decaying wood for other reasons, such as for nesting, breeding, and shelter from potential predators. Because they are so small, they have many potential predators in the Everglades and surrounding suburban areas, such as hawks, owls, snakes, other species of woodpeckers, and even house cats. However, despite their small size, red-bellied woodpeckers are known to be quite territorial and fiercely protective over their nests, and will get aggressive with predators many times their size when watching out for their young.

While fewer red-bellied woodpeckers are being seen in southern Florida theses days, they can still be spotted occasionally by birdwatchers in the Everglades and by families on Everglades airboat tours. In fact, this is one bird species that can be found on an Everglades swamp tour that you’ll likely hear coming before you see it!

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