What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Dear Mr. Marlos,
Having recently moved from an apartment on the mean sidewalks of Beverly Hills to a guest house in the rural splendor of Van Nuys, I have had plenty of opportunities to observe the local wildlife: Specifically in my new home. Just the other night, my cat (The Princess of Piss) directed my attention to my kitchen floor. Imagine my surprise when I found the object of her fascination crawling sluggishly across it: a long, black bug with multiple tiny legs. It looked like a cross between a cockroach and a caterpillar. Any idea what it could have been?

Yours in Insectia,
Susan Ehrlich


Hi Susie,
Just how long is long? In bug identification, size does matter. I am guessing that the long, black bug with multiple tiny legs was a millipede, which translates as “thousand feet” from Latin. Though a thousand is something of an exaggeration, they are in possession of many appendages, nevertheless, they move remarkably slowly, and sluggish is a very appropriate description. Several small species live in the Los Angeles basin, but two closely related species, Hiltonius pulchrus and Tylobolus claremontus, sometimes exceed three inches in length. A third species, Atopetholus californicus is slightly smaller. Millepedes are arthropods. Local species have shiny, cylindrical, segmented bodies that are black, dark grey or brown in color. When disturbed, millepedes will curl up like a watch spring. They often exude foul smelling fluids as a repelling defense mechanism. Some can even produce cyanide fumes. They prefer moist conditions and are prone to nocturnal wandering. They eat humus, rotting leaves and rotting wood, and are not a threat to life, limb nor property.

Dear What’s that Bug?
My house is being overrun by millipedes… they are 1 to 3 inches long and red to reddish brown in color. There are hundreds of them which I find crawling all over my counters, up and down my walls, and covering my floors. I was assuming that they were coming in through the cracks around windows and doors but I think they may be getting into my home through my A/C vents. I’ve been finding them in small rooms and closets that are nowhere near a door or window. Please help me rid my home of these and prevent further infestation!!!
—Amy

Dear Amy,
Where is your house? Do you live stateside, Southern California in particular, or in some faraway exotic place?
Millipedes belong to the class Diplopoda which means double footed, referring to the two close-set pairs of legs on each apparent segment (each segment actually consists of two coalesced true segments) of these worm-like arthropods. Millipedes prefer moist conditions, and they abound in damp litter and under rocks, logs, and loose bark, however, in their nocturnal wandering, they may wander into your cool, dark home, especially if the conditions outdoors are dry and hot. They are common after rains. Though they are harmless and nonaggressive, they have the ability to exude noxious fumes and fluids as a defense mechanism. The odor has been compared to iodine, quinine and chlorine, and some species are reputed to produce cyanide fumes. I would suggest a dehumifier for your home and shutting off the air conditioner, both of which will make your home less hospitable for the unwanted guests. One final thought: Certain years see a preponderance of certain species, whose life cycle peaks and then declines. This will go down in your diary as "the year of the millipedes," and can perhaps fuel your literary endeavors. Make the most of a bad situation.
signed,
Daniel Marlos
What’s That Bug?

Amy replies:
I live in central South Carolina. Very humid weather. My apartment is a bright dry place as opposed to the humid warm weather outside. That is the reason I was confused. Seems to me that these little guys would much prefer the weather outside to that of my home. I did notice a strange smell when I returned from my short vacation last week but It wasn’t all that horrible so I just chalked it up to the place being closed up for a few days. Hope my ‘year of the millipedes’ ends soon…
—Amy

Dear Amy,
Thank you for the further clarification. The fact that you live in humid South Carolina, a temperate rain forest, would help to explain why you have vast quantities of millipedes in your immediate vicinity to begin with. Sadly, not much is known about the biology of these interesting creatures. There is a tropical species, Oxidus gracilis, which goes by the common name Greenhouse Millipede. During the warm months, enormous swarms of them may develop in beds filled with potting soil, and it is possible that your infestation could be multiplying in your potted plants. The smell you noted could also have some bearing. As the critters eat decaying organic material, namely humus, rotting leaves, wood and bark, it is possible that wood used in the construction of your building could be providing them with a food source. Encyclopaedia Britannica states that "for some unexplained reason millipedes occasionally move in large numbers, sometimes even in broad daylight. On one occasion in Alsace a train was stopped because the dead and crushed bodies of migrating diplopods made the rails slippery." On a humorous final note, the encyclopaedia also states that "no credence should be given to the occasional reports that millipedes have been found living parasitically in the human bowel." Keep us posted as to the final outcome of your Year of the Millipede.
signed
Daniel Marlos
What’s That Bug

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

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