Millipedes look harmless from afar, but if you knew that centipedes could bite you, you wouldn’t be so dismissive of them. So, do millipedes bite too? If so, how and is it harmful? Let’s find out.
Is the sudden influx of millipedes in your home scaring you? Finding any new creepy crawlies in your home can indeed be a concern if you aren’t aware of whether they pose a threat.
Well, you’ve come to the right place looking for the information – this article will give you a thorough understanding of whether you should be wary of millipedes.
In case you were wondering about whether millipedes bite humans, rest assured that they aren’t capable of doing so.
Can Millipedes Bite?
Millipedes have developed mouthparts complete with teeth and mandibles.
This, together with the fact that they are capable of chewing and cutting their food, can make you think that they might bite too.
However, a millipede cannot bite you – their mouths simply aren’t suited for the action. A millipede’s mouthparts are small and weak.
However, millipedes do have a defense mechanism against predators. As you might be aware, they can curl up into a tight spiral when threatened.
Some millipede species also emit toxins in self-defense. These toxins are harmful to small predators like spiders, ants, and other insects.
Do Millipedes Sting?
Centipedes are infamous for their painful stings, and this might make one fear that millipedes can do the same.
However, unlike a centipede, millipedes do not have stingers. They are completely incapable of stinging.
Can Millipedes Hurt You?
While millipedes cannot bite or sting you, many species of millipedes excrete toxins when they feel threatened.
Some are even capable of spraying the toxins from up to around 2.6 feet. Millipede toxin contains several poisonous chemicals, such as:
- Hydrogen cyanide
- Organic acids
- Hydrochloric acid
On contact with sensitive skin, millipede toxin can cause blisters and skin irritation like burning or itching.
Getting it in your eyes can cause the eyes to redden and even lead to conjunctivitis. Other symptoms may include pain, tearing, corneal inflammation, eyelid spasms, etc.
Although it’s possible to go blind, too, that’s very rare.
Symptoms of Allergic Reaction to Millipedes
Potential allergic reactions are one of the key concerns when it comes to insect venom.
Millipede toxin usually causes only mild symptoms unless you get into your eyes and mouth.
However, if you are allergic to the toxins, the symptoms might be more severe. Allergic reactions that might occur from exposure to millipede toxins include rashes and blisters or hives.
In case you get blisters from handling a millipede, wash the affected area with regular soap and lukewarm water to remove the toxin.
Soothing topicals like hydrocortisone cream and over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl can help with itchy rashes.
What To Do if You Come in Contact With Millipede Toxin?
Regardless of whether you’re allergic to millipede toxins, don’t forget to wash your hands after handling millipedes. This can help you prevent rashes or burns.
Make sure not to eat anything with your hands or rub your eyes until you’ve washed your hands. As mentioned earlier, millipede toxin can be particularly problematic if you ingest it or somehow get it in your eyes.
Can Millipedes Kill You?
Don’t worry; while millipedes might look scary, they cannot kill you. Although their toxin can trigger allergic reactions and other symptoms, it’s not fatal to humans.
In fact, in one rare instance, the Bobo people of Burkina Faso actually consider millipedes as a delicacy!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do millipedes bite you?
They don’t – millipedes aren’t capable of biting. If your skin burns or reddens after handling a millipede, it’s likely because the arthropod secreted a toxin.
If you still think it was a millipede bite, make sure you’re not mistaking a centipede for a millipede. The former can deliver painful bites.
What attracts millipedes in the house?
Millipedes usually live outdoors, among decaying plant matter like leaf litter. They need moist environments to survive, which is usually unavailable inside homes.
However, heavy rains and droughts can drive them to your home in search of a new habitat. Especially if you have a damp basement or a water leak somewhere in the house, it might attract them.
Which is worse, centipede or millipede?
Centipedes are slightly more dangerous than millipedes, as they’re capable of biting. A centipede bite can be quite painful.
Thankfully, they rarely attack humans unless handled and don’t deliver any venom through their bite. You can easily differentiate between the two, as centipedes have flat bodies.
Are millipedes OK to touch?
It’s best not to touch a millipede directly with your hands to avoid toxin exposure. You may wear gloves or use a suitable object to pick them up.
Although people often keep millipedes as pets and handle them directly, those are usually non-toxic species.
Well, we hope this article has helped you get over your fears of suffering a painful insect sting from a millipede.
Keeping your lawn clean of dead leaves and other organic matter will help you avoid attracting them to your property.
Even if you find millipedes indoors, there’s no need to panic – just clean up your home and get rid of any excess moisture.
Thank you for reading!
Even though it is fairly unlikely that you might get bitten by a millipede, there are instances of our readers getting worried about them being poisonous, and this turning out to be the case. Read on to keep yourself safe!
Letter 1 – Turkish Millipede
Can you help me identify this millipede?i found it under a rock in Mt. Spil, Manisa , Turkey. I think someone has the picture of the same specie from Lesvos, Greece.
We were never able to identify the Lesvian Millipedes. Now that your photo has arrived, we will put renewed energy into trying to find an accurate identification.
Update: (01/20/2008) Greece millipedes
While scrolling through sites tonight, I came across yours, and I can answer many of the questions, though it is late. Anyhow, there are two pictures of a lovely black millipede fro, Greece with bright yellow spots down the midbody and yellow-spottwed margins. This is a species of Melaphe (order Polydesmida: family Xystodesmidae).
Rowland Shelley ,North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 2 – American Giant Millipede
what does it eat?
What a fantastic, fun and informative site! Good for you — and great for the rest of us. Can you identify this species of millipede for me? This one was photographed in early August in a bushlot near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I know they eat decaying plant and organic matter but would like to know if millipedes eat any type of fungi? Will look forward to hearing from you at the earliest time possible.
Celina in Canada
What a marvelous photo of an American Giant Millipede, Narceus americanus. Since Millipedes feed on decaying organic matter, and mushrooms also depend on decaying organic matter as a food source, they share the same habitat. As to whether the Millipedes would eat fungus, we see no reason why they wouldn’t, though have no concrete information regarding this presumption.
Update: (01/20/2008) Millipede IDs
2/5/06 Narceus americanus (Beauvois) (Spirobolida: Spirobolidae) in typical coloration.
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 3 – Pill Millipede
Can you identify this….
I almost stepped on this (millipede?) this morning in West Virginia. I was visiting my brother-in-law and he said he had no clue what it was. It’s shell was pretty hard (I tapped it with a stick) and I think it looks poisonous- Can you identify it for me? Thanks!
Jennifer in Ohio
BugGuide lists this Millipede as being in the order Polydesmida. According to Eric Eaton they secrete a cyanide compound.
Update: (01/20/2008) Millipede IDs
7/24/05 . Oh Apheloria virginiensis corrugata (Koch) (Polydesmida: Xystodesmidae),
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 4 – Italian Millipedes
I recently moved into an large, old house in Italy and have been overrun by a millipede-like bug. Approximately 20 of these appear every day and seem to prefer affixing themselves to the ceiling. I have been blasting them daily with bugspray which is reducing their numbers, but would like to find their lair and get rid of them completely. Any advice….?
You do have millipedes. They like damp conditions, and other than being a nuisance, they are not harmful. Populations tend to rise and fall with seasonal and weather conditions, and the drier days of summer should see the numbers decrease. Millipedes also do not wander far from damp ground, and finding them on the ceiling might be a sign of rotting wood in the walls. Sorry, I can’t give you any erradication advice.
Update: (01/20/2008) Millipede IDs
2/3/05 . Probably a representative of the Julidae (Julida) which are common in Europe .
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 5 – Unknown Social Millipedes from Panama
the Party Millipides of Panama
Sat, Mar 28, 2009 at 4:26 AM
I just came back from Panama, where I spent the past five weeks with my fellow Animal Behavior and Zoology classmates from the Evergreen State College. We were out in some secondary tropical lowland forest near our home base, looking for anoles, when I found a patch of freaky-looking critters clumped together on the side of a large, living, lichen-enrobed tree in a swampy part of the forest. At first glance I didn’t even take them for arthropods; they looked like crazy armored flatworms. There were about nine adults, with four or five younger ones (about a third the size of the adults) scattered among them. I whipped out my trusty specimen container (don’t leave home without it!) and collected two adults and a little one.
When I got back to our quarters, I showed them to Pete, who runs ITEC (the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation, our very cool laboratory/dormitory/home- away-from-home). He confirmed my suspicions that they were a millipede, although he didn’t know the species. He noted that he’d often seen them, and that every time he had, they were in large groups with adults and young, like I’d seen, and in the open on the sides of trees. I was intrigued, and kept my eyes out for them for the rest of the trip.
Bizarrely, I next ran into them on a trail in the cloud forests surrounded El Valle, the crater of an extinct volcano. This was a big group, numbering over sixty, and in this group there were big white patches of REALLY young ones, like the little pale ones pictured here. Again, they were in the open, during the day, on the side of a large dead tree. I collected more specimens to keep my two at home company (the young one had died, but the two adults were living seemingly very contentedly in a habitat of moss and dead wood I’d made for them in a beaker). Unfortunately, this batch did not survive the trip through Panama City and back home to ITEC.
I next came upon them on a small dead tree overhanging a stream at the mouth of La Gruta caves, where we were batwatching. The undersides of the largest of the tree branches were covered in patches of white young, ringed by adults. The colony extended to the outermost stalactites of the cave. The midsized juveniles were scattered among the adults on the tree, but not among the adults on the stalactites or on the fallen branches caught in the dead tree.
I collected adults, young, and juveniles, and, after some experimenting (which I’ll spare you, as this message is already beyond overlong, but hey, you asked for “as much narrative and information as possible”, and by gods you’re going to get it) discovered that the adults stuck by their young, even if there was a disadvantage in terms of food/shelter (both are kinda the same thing for these guys) in doing so. Furthermore, the millipedes preferred the company of adults that they had been captured near, even after being Randomized (which isn’t nearly as ominous as it sounds).
I can’t for the life of me figure out why this might be. They don’t give off any detectable chemical defense, so their only defense seems to be armor, which would do their soft, pale babies not very much good. So why group them all together in a big white honking advertisement to the local insectivore population? They live on their food source, so I don’t think that feeding them is a motivator. Frankly, I’m puzzled. Any ideas, or recommendations of people who might have ideas?
For that matter, I’m not entirely sure what these guys even ARE. I keyed them out in an ancient book on the milipides of Costa Rica and Panama while I was in ITEC, and came up with Platydesmus subovatus, but there were no pictures and, not being an entomologist by training, some of the subtleties of the anatomy described escaped me. When I came back to the ‘States and was able to check online, I became more certain that they belong in the order Platydesmida. Beyond that, though, I’m lost; they frankly look like little dun clones of Brachycybe, which are Andrognathids, but from what (very little) I’ve been able to discern, Brachycybe is a genus that is limited to the continental United States. There are other Andrognathids that look, from pictures, a lot less like these guys, though, and I have yet come across a picture of any Platydesmid (the eponymous other family within the order Platydesmidae), so I can’t tell if the really different-looking Andrognathids are just highl y derived (meaning that the sluggy looking dudes like Brachycybe and my little guys are potentially just the basal look for the Platydesmid order) or if I’ve actually got a sister taxon to Brachycybe. Or maybe they just converged to look like robotic leeches. I really don’t know.
There are gods only know how many species of millipede in the Neotropics; I don’t expect anyone to pin these guys down to species given two rather blurry photos, but if you could help me get down to genus or even family I would be greatly in your debt! If you need better photos, that could be arranged; the animals I collected from La Gruta (and those original two from my first encounter with this species) have accompanied me back to Washington State, where they’re living in a colony in a large hexagonal tank full of rotten Panamanian wood and moss.
Colin Eliphalet Bartlett
the mouth of La Gruta Cave, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Bocas del Toro Province, Republic of Panama
Thanks so much for your detailed account of your observations of these social Millipedes from Panama. Sadly, we are uncertain of the exact identification, but we will post your letter and photo in the hopes that some Millipede expert will contact us.
Letter 6 – Millipede from Turkey
February 13, 2014
I sent you a letter a month or so ago about a stinky centipede. you answered my letter immediately, and I am very thankful to you. I found another one in my office and got a picture for you. when touched it expels a very foul odor that stays on my hands for hours and stinks up several rooms. You told me it could be cyanide gas. Thanks again, and here is the picture. Thanks again. Timur – in Turkey
Thanks for sending in your recent photo and description. This is a Millipede, not a Centipede.
Letter 7 – Possibly Rusty Millipede
Subject: Not sure what this
Location: North Central Florida
November 2, 2014 6:38 am
I found this in my son’s room. I’m just wondering what it is and is it dangerous. He is 1 and puts everything in his mouth.
This is a Millipede in the class Diplopoda, and it looks like it might be a Rusty Millipede, Trigoniulus corallinus, which BugGuide states is: “Non-native. Apparently from Thailand and Myanmar. Also present in the Caribbean.” BugGuide also states: “To discourage predators, millipedes coil into a protective spiral, or roll into a defensive ball; many emit poisonous or foul-smelling substances. Many bright-colored/patterned millipedes (image below) secrete a compound containing cyanide.”
Ok great so it is nothing I should be concerned about being poisonous to my son?
To the best of our knowledge, cyanide is considered a poison, though we suspect the quantity released by a Millipede would be more likely to cause any potential predator, including your son, to spit it out immediately because of the foul taste. We do not want to go on record stating it is harmless.
Letter 8 – Bug of the Month March 2018: Millipede found in Creek
Subject: Orange/yellow Millipede with green legs?
Geographic location of the bug: Alamo, CA
Time: 10:25 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Found this in our neighborhood creek after a rain with my 3 year old. Despite tireless google image searching I cannot find a millipede or centipede anywhere that looks like this!
How you want your letter signed: Bri “mom” Schrader
Dear Bri “mom” Schrader,
It appears that this individual has two pairs of legs per body segment, which means it is a Millipede. Centipedes have a single pair of legs per body segment. If you found it in the creek, if might be drowned and dead, which may have changed its coloration. We searched the internet for California Millipedes and we found this interesting article on Myrmecos Blog that profiles a glow in the dark Millipede species, Motyxia sequoiae, and that states: “One nocturnal genus in this family, Motyxia, known only from California, does not display conspicuous coloration. These millipedes do something even more remarkable—they produce a green bioluminescent glow at a dominant wavelength of 500 nm by way of a biological source of light in their exoskeleton. Scientists have speculated that the emitted light could be a sexual signal to attract mates, or an aposematic warning glow to announce the presence of a cyanide-based chemical defense.” There are also images on Anotheca so we are relatively confident we have identified your species. We will be featuring your submission as our Bug of the Month for March 2018.
Thank you for your response! My husband sent my picture, but he got the story a little wrong. My daughter found it under a log near the creek in our yard. It was very much alive. Threw me for a loop. Have never seen a millipede that color!
Thanks again! So cool to know what it is!