Millipede: All You Need To Know

This article will be a short guide for everything that you might want to know about millipedes.

With their numerous legs and segmented body, the millipedes often look like creatures straight out of a science fiction movie.

It is no surprise that they have inspired a few ideas in the genre over the years.

But despite their appearance, millipedes are fascinating creatures that are a favorite among biologists and children alike.

While some of these bugs can be poisonous, many varieties are, in fact, harmless and safe for keeping as introductory pets.

This article will be a guide to all things millipede – a one-stop shop that will help you uncover their world in just a few short minutes.

Millipede
Flatbacked Millipede

What Are Millipedes?

Millipedes are arthropods belonging to the Diplopoda class.

Their most easily identifiable characteristic is that they have several pairs of jointed legs all across the segments of their body.

In fact, they often look like black centipedes with yellow legs.

And even though their name suggests that they have a thousand feet, that’s not really the case for most of them.

In fact, only the Eumillipes Persephone, which can have up to 1300 feet, is known to truly justify the name.

In terms of classification, Millipedes can be put into 12,000 different species, making them the largest class of myriapods – the class that includes all such creatures, including centipedes.

Most of these species look alike – they have long, cylinder-like bodies and several legs. Their bodies can have more than 20 sections.

Millipede Types

As mentioned above, there are over 12,000 different species of millipedes around the world. 

Among the most common families of millipedes are Spirobolida and Polydesmida. 

Spirobolida typically has a cylindrical body with short legs and ranges in size from less than an inch to several inches long. 

Polydesmida tends to be smaller but has longer bodies and more legs. 

Other families of millipedes include Sphaerotheriida, which have rounded bodies like pill bugs or armadillos, and Julida, which have flat bodies similar to centipedes. 

Despite their many differences, all millipedes play important roles in ecosystems by breaking down dead plant matter into soil nutrients.

Colorful Millipede

What Does A Millipede Eat?

Millipedes are detritivores that eat decaying matter, whether it be organic, plants, animals or insects. 

They are not picky eaters and are an important part of the ecosystem in a forest. 

They don’t eat anything alive but only feed on the dead and decaying. 

In contrast to centipedes, which are carnivorous and aggressive, millipedes are gentle creatures that wait before feeding on decaying matter.

In the wild, these insects will eat any and all of the following:

  • Decaying carcasses and tree barks
  • Moss
  • Mushrooms and Fungi
  • Dead grass
  • Dead bugs
  • Dead plant material, like dead leaves or flower buds
  • Decaying fruits and vegetables

They love the rainy season because it helps to decompose a lot of organic material.

Some of them can also be kept as pets, and if you intend to do so, here are a few things that you can offer your pet:

  • Decaying bark or other plant matter from your garden
  • Moss
  • Wet cat or dog foods 
  • Stale fruits & vegetables

They are no-nonsense pets and pretty easy to keep as well. We will cover more about this in a later section.

How Do Millipedes Get Water?

Millipedes require damp, dark places with high moisture to survive, as they lack a protective outer layer. 

Tropical millipede species can be found both indoors and outdoors in such environments. 

These sensitive bugs adjust their habitat and behavior according to the seasons, seeking moist places during dry months like summer and spring. 

They often reside in building corners and cracks for extra moisture. There are three strategies they often use to absorb/conserve water:

  • They can absorb moisture from the surroundings using their exoskeleton
  • Water is available in the foods they eat, especially decayed fruits and vegetables
  • One particular species, the bristle millipede, can even get moisture from the air!

If you are planning to keep them as pets, an easy way is to put a water bowl in their enclosure, with a pebble for them to climb in and out of it.

Millipede Assassin Bugs prey on Millipede

Where Do Millipedes Live?

Millipedes are found all around the world, but they prefer to live in moist environments.

They typically live in soil, under rocks or logs, and in leaf litter.

Some millipede species also live in caves, while others can be found on the forest floor or high up in trees.

Others, such as those native to tropical rainforests, are arboreal and climb trees.

In general, millipedes prefer areas with plenty of organic matter to feed on and places to hide from predators.

While they are not known for being harmful to humans, some species can secrete irritating chemicals as a defense mechanism.

Life Cycle of A Millipede

Millipedes reproduce sexually, with both a male and female required to produce offspring.

However, there are some species that might also reproduce asexually.

Mating

Millipede males use pheromones to find potential mates.

They also perform mating rituals to attract females.

During mating, males use their gonopods (specialized legs) to transfer spermatophores to the female.

In some species, the male creates a web for the female to collect the package of sperm without direct mating.

After mating, the male typically leaves and does not participate any further in the upbringing of offspring.

Eggs

After mating, the female heads off to lay eggs in the soil. In some cases, the eggs are laid individually, but others can leave several of them together in a single place.

While the number of eggs can vary, Millipedes might lay as many as 300 of them in one go.

The eggs are small, round, and white. 

In most cases, once the eggs are laid, the female also departs, leaving them to fend for themselves.

One exception is the Brachycybe lecontii, a species known to take care of the eggs and protect them from becoming food for predators.

Millipede L7

Instars

After a few weeks, the eggs hatch and go through multiple stages of growth, known as instars. 

During this time, they do not have the telltale legs that they are famous for – it takes several molts to get there.

In the molting process, the instars also shed their skin several times, like caterpillars.

The instars feed on fungi, rotting plants and anything other decomposing matter available in order to get the energy to grow bigger.

Adults

Millipedes do not have a pupation stage – they simply grow into adults. In each molting, they keep adding more and more legs and growing bigger and bigger.

After reaching their maximum size, they leave the protection of the soil and move to the surface where more sources of food are available to them.

How Long Do Millipede Live?

Millipedes take about two to five years to grow into adults, and beyond that, they can live for several more years as long as they are not predated.

In captivity or under laboratory environments, they have been known to live as much as ten years or more.

Do They Bite?

Millipedes have mouthparts that include teeth and mandibles.

These allow them to chew their food. However, they cannot bite you.

This is because their mouths are too small and weak.

Instead of biting, many of them prefer to curl up into a tight spiral and play dead when faced with a predator.

Some of them have evolved to emit toxins.

Moreover, unlike centipedes which can leave a painful sting on your hand, millipedes will not sting you either.

Are They Poisonous/Venomous?

Yes, millipedes are dangerous because of the toxins that they secrete.

These toxins include chemicals like 

  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Organic acids
  • HydroquinonesBenzoquinones
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Phenol
  • Cresols

Moreover, they have the capability of shooting them across 2.5 feet, so it is very important to handle them carefully.

The immediate reaction can be skin irritation and blisters.

If the toxin enters your eyes, it can cause reddening and pain as well.

Are They Harmful or Beneficial to Humans?

Apart from their toxin, which we just mentioned above, millipedes are quite beneficial to us.

They are great “Composters.” They can decompose just about anything and finish off the trash in your garden.

Moreover, millipedes aren’t biters, so they won’t hurt your pets, unlike other bugs.

Glowworm (below) will Millipede Prey

What Are Millipedes Attracted To?

As we mentioned earlier, millipedes love damp and dark places because these are the spots where they can find their food.

Dead grass, mulch, and other decaying organic matter in your garden can be a magnet for millipedes to be attracted to your garden.

Millipedes as Pets – How To Care for Them

While not all varieties of millipedes are suitable to keep as pets, there are a few:

  • Bumblebee Millipedes
  • Scarlet Millipedes
  • Smokey Oak Millipedes and
  • Giant Millipedes

These millipedes are well suited to be kept as pets with proper precautions.

Here are a few things to remember when keeping millipedes as pets:

Housing

Keeping millipedes as pets is affordable and straightforward since they can live in aquariums or similar containers.

To start with, select a container that is three times as long as the sum of the lengths of all your millipedes combined.

It should also be wide enough for them to move comfortably.

Some species, such as giant millipedes, would require bigger homes.

Add a few holes in the lid for ventilation but don’t put in openings they could escape from.

Keep this container somewhere away from the noise and bright lights.

Millipedes love to hide, so put in some things like small rocks or plastic domes.

Don’t house different species in one container to avoid conflict over resources or dominance.

Substrate

You need to add a substrate to their container because it gives them food and moisture while also serving as a digging surface.

You can buy suitable substrates at pet shops or make one yourself using soil, leaf litter, and wood.

You might also add a wet bark and moss.

Each layer of the substrate should be at least 5 inches thick, and calcium supplements should be added to replenish calcium content.

Temperature

Millipedes do well when the temperature is in the 72 to 78 F range. Their tank should also have a humidity level of 60-70%

Regular misting and using heating pads can help solve both of these problems.

Food

This is the easiest bit – the substrate itself is a source of food for your millipedes.

By adding decaying matter to it, you are providing enough for your millipedes to survive.

Throwing in a few fruits and vegetables will also be good for your pets.

If there remains some uneaten food in their tanks, please make sure to remove it in a few hours and keep their home clean.

As mentioned earlier, also add a bowl of water to the setup.

Flat-Backed Millipede

How To Get Rid of Millipedes?

There are several ways to get rid of millipedes, though it might first be good to examine why you want to remove them in the first place.

These bugs are harmless, as we mentioned earlier, except for the toxic substances they can spew when alarmed.

If you are sure you want to go ahead, here are a few things that might work:

  • Vinegar
  • Soapy Water
  • Diatomaceous Earth
  • Neem Oil
  • Boric acid

Apart from these, here are a few strategies that can help to prevent an infestation of these bugs:

  • Seal all openings and cracks in your walls
  • Use a door sweeper to keep them from entering from under the door
  • Try to make sure there are no leakages or sources of water in the house.
  • Use a dehumidifier
  • Clean your garden and remove mulch, organic matter, grass, leaves, and so on.

Natural Millipede Predators

Here are a few animals that are natural predators of millipedes and can help reduce their population pretty quickly:

  • Hedgehogs
  • Birds
  • Scorpions
  • Ants
  • Reptiles

Monkeys are known to eat millipedes (or rather attack them) because the toxins released by the millipedes is intoxicating for them.

Promecognathus Beetles have evolved an ability to survive a cloud of cyanide gas, which they use to hunt and kill millipedes.

Beneficial nematodes are another species that can be used to remove millipedes easily.

Can Humans Eat Millipedes?

Surprisingly, millipedes are a source of food in one specific corner of the world – Burkina Faso

The people of the Bobo community living here eat them as a delicacy.

It is hypothesized that these people have evolved an ability to survive chemicals like benzoquinones.

They also use boiling as a clever way to remove cyanide from millipedes and even some plants – like cassava.

Interesting Facts About Millipedes

  • Despite their name, millipedes do not have a thousand legs – except for one particular species.
  • Millipedes can defend against predators by throwing a toxic substance that contains cyanide across distances of more than 2.5 feet.
  • There are over 12000 species of millipedes in the world.
  • Even though you might categorize them as bugs, they are not. Millipedes are actually more closely related to crayfish and lobsters than other insects.
  • Millipedes are nature’s recyclers, capable of decomposing almost any organic matter whatsoever with ease.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are millipedes bad in house?

Millipedes are not necessarily bad in a house, but they can be a nuisance for homeowners. These creatures are generally harmless and do not carry diseases, but they can still become a problem if they start to infest the house.
Millipedes tend to thrive in damp environments, so if there are any areas in the home with moisture problems, such as leaky pipes or basements prone to flooding, it could attract millipedes.
When they die, their bodies can also create an unpleasant smell. If you find millipedes in your home, the best solution is to remove them without harming them and then identify and eliminate the sources of material that attracted them to your property.

Can house millipedes hurt you?

House millipedes are not harmful to humans. Although they may look scary with their many legs, these small creatures do not pose any danger to people or pets.
In fact, house millipedes feed on dead insects and other organic matter found in the home, which can be beneficial for pest control.
While house millipedes release a foul-smelling fluid when threatened, this is simply a defense mechanism and does not harm humans in any way.
Therefore, homeowners do not need to worry about the presence of these harmless creatures in their homes.

What kills millipedes instantly?

Millipedes can be killed using various methods, including insecticides and natural remedies. Insecticides such as pyrethroids or carbaryl can be used to target millipedes directly and kill them on contact.
However, these chemicals may also harm other beneficial insects and animals in your garden or home.
Alternatively, you can use natural methods such as diatomaceous earth or salt, which dehydrate the millipedes and kill them instantly upon contact.
Another method is to physically remove the millipedes using a vacuum cleaner or by handpicking them and disposing of them in a sealed container.

How do I permanently get rid of millipedes?

To permanently get rid of millipedes, it is important to locate the source of the infestation and eliminate it.
Millipedes are attracted to moisture, so ensuring a dry environment in your home can reduce their presence. Seal cracks and crevices around doors and windows as millipedes can enter through small openings.
In addition, removing debris and clutter near the foundation of your home can reduce the number of hiding places for millipedes. Using insecticides targeted toward millipedes can also be effective in reducing their population.

Do millipedes lay eggs in houses?

Millipedes can sometimes be found in houses, but they do not typically lay eggs inside human dwellings.
They generally prefer moist and dark environments such as basements, crawl spaces or gardens. Female millipedes lay their eggs in the soil or other organic matter and protect them until they hatch.
While it is possible for millipedes to find their way inside homes accidentally, they usually don’t stay long and do not pose any threat to humans or pets.

Do millipedes carry diseases?

There is no evidence to suggest that millipedes carry diseases that can harm humans or pets.
Although some species of millipedes can produce a secretion that may cause skin irritation or discoloration, these incidents are rare and typically not severe.
However, it’s always a good practice to avoid handling millipedes with bare hands and wash thoroughly if you come into contact with them. Overall, although millipedes may look creepy and crawly, they are generally harmless creatures.

How long do millipedes live in a house?

The lifespan of millipedes in a house can vary widely depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, and food availability.
In general, millipedes can live anywhere from a few months to a few years. Some species may only survive for a few months indoors, while others can thrive for several years.
However, if left unchecked or if conditions are favorable, millipede populations can grow rapidly and become quite a nuisance.
It is important to address any infestations promptly to prevent them from causing damage or becoming more difficult to control.

What causes millipedes in the house?

Millipedes in the house can be caused by a variety of factors, including dampness, moisture, and exterior environmental conditions.
Millipedes thrive in wet environments, so if there is excessive moisture in the house, they are likely to show up. They may also come inside when their outdoor habitat changes, such as during periods of heavy rain or drought.
Once inside, they may find refuge in basements, crawl spaces or other areas that provide them with the moisture and shelter required for survival.
It is essential to take measures and address any sources of dampness or moisture problems in order to prevent millipede infestation inside homes.

Wrap Up

Much reviled due to their appearance, millipedes are actually quite harmless creatures. In fact, some of them are excellent pets as well.

They survive most of their fairly long lives in the soil or just above it, decomposing whatever they can find.

They don’t need much to live – these hardy creatures can do with just a little bit of food and almost no direct water.

Their only ominous thing is the ability to spew toxins several feet from their bodies in an attempt to protect themselves.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you found the millipedes an interesting species to investigate further.

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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