Literally called bugs with a thousand pairs of legs, millipedes are fascinating creatures on earth. They love to eat what no one else does. So what do millipedes eat, you ask? You will have to read below to find out!
Often confused with their cousins, the centipedes, millipedes are harmless little bugs that are good to have around. In fact, many people like to keep them as pets.
They come from the Diplopoda class of insects, and there are about 7,000 species of millipedes. Nearly 1/5th of those millipede species can be found in the United States.
The reason they are useful to humans is that they eat a lot of stuff that we don’t know what to do with, like decaying leaves, mulch, flower buds, other organic material, fungi, and other bugs.
Let’s learn a bit more about these fascinating creatures and what they love to munch on.
What Do They Eat?
Millipedes are like nature’s cleaning crew. Anything that’s decaying – millipedes are there. They don’t care if it is organic matter, plants, animals, insects, or whatnot.
Millipedes are omnivores and one of the very few in the insect world. Some scientists prefer the term detritivores because these worms love to eat detritus.
They don’t eat anything alive – only the dead and decaying. If the zombie apocalypse were upon us, millipedes would probably be our greatest friends!
Millipedes are an important part of the ecosystem in a forest. After all, when the plants and animals are dead and gone, who will come to decompose them? Why the millipedes, of course!
Millipedes are also somewhat opportunistic – they can eat just about anything, and they aren’t choosy. Since they only feed on detritus, not much is known about their preferences.
When people compare millipedes with centipedes, this is one important point that stands out – centipedes are carnivorous, and they are also fierce fighters. They love to bite and sting.
Millipedes are gentle and soft-hearted creatures who wait before you die to feed on you rather than trying to kill you themselves!
What Do They Eat in the Wild?
We said they are opportunistic, but here are a few things we definitely know they eat.
- Decaying carcasses
- Dead plant material, like dead leaves or flower buds
- Decaying tree bark
- Dead bugs
- Other Fungi
- Decaying fruits and vegetables
- Dead grass
One thing that’s consistent about them is that they love moist environments. Wherever you find millipedes, there is sure to be a really damp environment.
If you have had rainfall recently in your area, millipedes will come crawling in the soil, soaking up all that water.
By the way, they are also consummate hiders; you will only find them in places where you don’t expect to find anything – they literally like living under a rock!
Moisture helps the process of decomposition, which makes things extra yummy for our 100-legged friends.
Rotten leaves, fallen branches, and dead plants all beckon millipedes like nightclubs call youngsters on a Friday night. They don their best party wear and head towards decaying matter like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet at a five-star restaurant.
The one thing that these gentle creatures abhor in their diets is – you guessed it – anything fresh. They just can’t stand what you and I might call “healthy” food.
What Do They Eat as Pets?
Some millipedes, like the Giant Millipede (Archispirostreptus Gigas), make for wonderful pets if you are into wriggly creepy crawlies.
These gentle giants can be kept in small tanks inside your home, and they love to munch on a lot of things that are quite normal for a millipede.
Here’s what you can feed your giant millipede in your home:
- Cat or dog foods (but only the wet ones)
- Decaying bark or other plant matter
- Fruits & vegetables
Apart from their food, it is important to maintain the right moisture and temperature level for these pests. As we said earlier, millipedes absolutely love damp environments.
If you can put in places to hide under in your tank, like small decorative stones or pieces of wood, these guys will often dig themselves in deep, only to be seen if you stir the tank a little bit.
Food scraps from your table are something else you can consider giving these bugs, especially if the scraps are of fresh foods like fruits or veggies.
Make sure that you keep them happy with lots of different varieties of foods since they are known to be very open to exploration as far as food choices are concerned.
Millipedes don’t need a water dish either, like other small pets. Keep your tank moist, mist it a little now and then, and your millipedes are capable enough to absorb the water themselves.
How Does a Millipede Eat Food?
Millipedes have mandibles (jaws), like many other insects and larvae. Unlike others, they also have a set of small teeth.
Once millipedes hatch, they need about a year to reach their adult stage, though some species might take two to five years. A few lazy bums may take up to 10 years to become adults!
Since millipedes live long and healthy lives, having jaws and teeth is important for them so that they can get in some good meals.
How Much Should You Feed Them?
Millipedes are big eaters. They love to eat the dead and decaying matter around them, so much so that they can eat many times their body weight.
When they hatch, they start off with the softer stuff like plant leaves and organic matter available on the forest ground.
As they grow older, they can go on to try newer things and build their preferences. If you try offering many types of foods to your pet millipedes, you will find that they eventually tend towards some foods more than others.
To start feeding your millipede friends, add about one cup or shallow dish full of moist, wet, organic matter to their tanks. Keep changing what detritus you offer every day.
If you find that some of your cups are going empty and others are returning back half-eaten or untouched, you will know what the little guys are loving.
There’s a lot that a millipede can eat, despite its small size. Its powerful teeth and mandibles are designed to break down just about anything.
So, even if you are starting only with baby millipedes, make sure to always keep lots of food around in their tank. They won’t disappoint you with their appetites.
In fact, these guys can often grow up to be almost a foot in size, and it is all thanks to their voracious appetites.
What Eats Them?
Given their rather diminutive size, it’s obvious that these defenseless creatures have many who love to prey on them. Rodents, reptiles, birds, bugs, you name it – everybody gets to feast on their juicy and squishy little bodies.
Here are a few of the higher-ups in the ecosystem who take a bite out of the millipede:
The list is not exhaustive, and any small animals, insects, or birds you think of can probably be added to it easily.
The only defense that these poor guys have to offer is to hide beneath rocks and tree branches, where they “hope” that they won’t be found. Sadly, most of the time, it is not enough.
How Do You Get Rid of Millipedes?
Everyone does not enjoy watching wriggling creatures infesting their house, and if you are not a fan, these guys can be nuisance pests.
While they are perfectly harmless, you still might want to get rid of them as best as you can. One simple method is, of course, just to pick these guys up and chuck them out. If you see several of them in one spot, bring out the ol’ vacuum and have at it.
If you are not satisfied with just chucking these guys out, there are other, deadlier ways to deal with them. However, be aware that many common insecticides used in homes don’t work on them.
For example, vinegar and Epsom salts, both very good insect killers, don’t do anything to them. You need to go to the next level, which includes dish soap water solution, boric acid, and diatomaceous earth.
Neem oil also works on them, but rather slowly.
Will Bleach Kill Millipedes?
Yes, bleach does work on millipedes, just like centipedes. Add a sprinkle of bleach to that dish soap-water spray we talked about earlier, and you’ve got an effective millipede remover on your hands.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do millipedes bite humans?
No, millipedes can’t bite humans despite their teeth and mandibles. However, some of them might secrete a substance that causes rashes and skin irritation in people.
If you handled a millipede recently, do not rub your eyes! If this material gets into your eyes, you might end up getting conjunctivitis and redness in them. This is also called millipede burn.
Are millipedes good to have around?
As we said, millipedes are part of nature’s cleaning crew, along with earthworms and springtails. These guys remove dead and decomposing material from your garden.
Keeping dead organic material away is very beneficial because a lot of pests grow in dead organic matter, and these guys help you keep them away from your plants.
Can millipedes eat lettuce?
In the wild, they won’t touch it. As long as it is fresh, millipedes want nothing to do with it.
In captivity, you can force-feed the poor guys. They will eat lettuce, cucumber and other fruits and vegetables, as long as you cut them up before you lay them in their tanks.
What is the lifespan of a millipede?
Most millipedes take nearly two to five years to mature. However, there are some species that might even take ten years to get there.
Millipedes are one of the oldest living creatures on earth. They first straddled the earth with their thousands of feet a time more than 400 million years ago.
During that time, in the early environment of young, oxygen-rich earth, when some of these guys could grow to be as long as 6.5 feet. As oxygen levels fell, the insects became smaller and lived lesser.
That brings us to the end of this fascinating episode of the millipede’s eating habits. If you enjoyed reading all about these creatures, please give us a shoutout. And thank you for reading!
Millipedes are surprisingly common pets. Read on some emails from our readers over the years, asking us to identify them and help regarding what to feed and how to keep them.
Letter 1 – Millipede from the Philippines
can you please tell me what kind of millipede this is? I found it in the Philipines a few years ago. Thanks.
Stefan from Denmark.
We haven’t had much luck identifying your Millipede species. Perhaps one of our readers will have an answer for you.
Update: (01/20/2008) Millipede ids.
Here are ids. for the millipedes on the millipede page. Most are quite old; don’t people submit new ones more often than this? 1/1/07 . Philippines . From colors of bands it looks like a representative of the family Rhinocricidae (order Spirobolida). Since Stefan is in Denmark, there is a first rate specialist at the Danish Museum of Natural History, Copenhagen, Dr. Henrik Enghoff. Stefan should take the specimen by for an id. Henrik will probably be interested to learn that this foreign millipede was found in Denmark.
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Update: (02/04/2008) possible contact for ID’ing Filipino millipede
Well, once again, you folks are responsible for the loss of about $25.00 worth of valuable tax dollars! Here I am, trying to ID a North American Millipede, when I made the mistake of logging on to your website. It is so fascinating that it seems I have “squandered” a good hour just poking around, looking at all the fascinating photos and sassy comments. Keep it up! I was overjoyed to see that gorgeous Philippine millipede. I grew up there, and got my biology degree there. If you’d like me to, I will track down the email address of the terrestrial ecosystems section of the bio department – CENTROP, Silliman University, Dumaguete City, Philippines. Perhaps they have someone there that can ID that beauty. My husband is filipino, and tells me stories of gigantic millipedes that can “shoot” a caustic acid on people that harrass them. Yikes. The specimen in the picture is probably about 6″ long, judging from the bamboo wall/floor strips behind it on the right that are usually about an inch wide. Sure wish I had seen it! Wow. Hope it helps! My husband is from the Philippines, and he recognizes the lovely black and yellow millipede. It’s about 6″ long, and he thinks the locals call it “labod” in the local dialect of Cebuano. He says it can ooze a very caustic fluid. You might try contacting CENTROP at Silliman University, Dumaguete City Philippines if you need more info on it. There should be someone there who would know more about it. I’ll try to track down a valid e-mail address if you are interested. That is one totally cool millipede!!!!!
Lancaster County Environmental Center
Letter 2 – American Giant Millipede
millipede, but what species?
I love the website!!! I work for a non-profit environmental organization in Southwestern PA. We took a picture of this beautiful millipede while conducting field work one day. We are inducting it into our photo library but want to make sure that it is correctly identified as either native or exotic/invasive. Can you tell me what species of millipede this is and if it is native to the eastern US or, more specifically, to PA.
Thanks a lot,
Kylie Daisley, Projects Manager
Natural Biodiversity Conservation Strategy
Native and in your range. This is an American Giant Millipede, Narceus americanus. According to BugGuide, the range is “Southeastern US, north to Ohio, and west to Texas.”
Update: (01/20/2008) Millipede IDs
1/25/06 . Narceus americanus (Beauvois)
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 3 – Millipede from Hawaii
What is this caterpillar? Does it eat wood?
January 10, 2010
We need to know what this is and if it eats wood because they are appearing all over our home. It is 1 inch long and only about 1/8 inch wide.
This is a Millipede, not a caterpillar. They eat decomposing matter and will not harm wood. The Star Bulletin Hawaii News website has an online article on Millipedes in Hawaii.
Thanks for the quick response!!! 🙂
Letter 4 – Millipede
March 25, 2010
I found this guy about 6″ underground while planting pine trees in Western PA. It’s about 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ long.
While they share many physical similarities with Centipedes, your creature is actually a Millipede. They are distinguished from Centipedes by Millipedes having two pairs of legs per body segment. Based on photos posted to BugGuide, we believe this is Sigmoria latior which is a member of the family Xystodesmidae, which BugGuide characterizes as “Many are brightly colored and all have stink glands.”
Letter 5 – Millipede from Costa Rica
Costa Rican millipede
April 7, 2010
Hi bugman :]
I thought you might like this picture of a millipede we found in Costa Rica in the Monteverde cloud forest region. She had babies that were so tiny you could barely see them hiding above her legs and underneath her outer shell. When you bother her, she secretes a fluid containing cyanide. It smells like almonds. I looked in your millipede section and she looks a lot like some of the millipedes there, but many of those were from the U.S. Do you know what kind of millipede she is?
Monteverde, Costa Rica
Thanks for sending your Millipede photo with the observational data. We are curious about your comment about the babies because we were not aware of Millipedes transporting their young about. We tried to research this behavior, and we found two sources with identical information. According to the Millipedes at Animal Corner website: “Millipedes lay their eggs in the soil. Some species make individual cases for their eggs out of chewed-up leaves. In some species, the female, and occasionally the male, guard the eggs until they hatch. Although young millipedes resemble small adults, they are usually have no legs when they first hatch from the egg. After they molt, or shed their exoskeleton for the first time, they have six body segments and three pairs of legs.” We found the identical information here at a Diplopoda Behavior and Reproduction website. We wonder, perhaps, if there were mites or some other creature living on the Millipede.
Letter 6 – Millipede from India
centipede from India
Location: Tamil Nadu, india
February 12, 2011 1:49 pm
Hello dear bugman, I am back with a few more finds… if you find the time to look at them – lovely!
This looks like a centipede… about 6-8cm long, black-yellow. It was found in dry grassland in Tamil Nadu, India.
Signature: Thanks, Helen
This is not a Centipede. It is a Millipede. You can tell by looking closely and seeing that there are two pairs of legs per body segment while Centipedes have but one pair per body segment. Centipedes and Millipedes are in different classes in the same Subphylum, Myriapoda. According to BugGuide, the word Myriapoda has its origin: “From Greek myrias (μυριας) 10,000 (i.e., countless) plus podos foot, leg.” Millipedes are in the class Diplopoda.
Karl provides a species identification
Hi Daniel and Helen:
This millipede looks very similar to the Yellow-spotted millipede (a.k.a. the Almond-scented Millipede or Cyanide Millipede), Harpaphe haydeniana, a native of the Pacific coast of North America that is well represented on the Bugguide site. The internet has a profusion of images suggesting that this species also occurs in India and various other Asian locations, but there is also considerable confusion regarding whether or not this species actually exists in Asia (by introduction I would assume). I did find several references in scientific papers suggesting that it does, at least in India, but I also found sites that indicated it is commonly confused with the Asian species Asiomorpha coarctata. There are other Asian species that also look similar but I suspect it is one of these two (to me H. haydeniana looks like a closer match). I think it probably has been introduced to India, but given the degree of confusion I don’t think I would fully trust any internet image identified as a H. haydeniana from Asia.
Letter 7 – Colorful Millipede in Virginia
Subject: Black and orange with yellow legs
Geographic location of the bug: Williamsburg, VA
Time: 08:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: My two year old came across this bug while picking up rocks. She touched it and ran back to me saying “ouch!” over and over. There is a red mark on her finger. I don’t know if it bit her or stung her or if it has a substance on it. We have found them in our yard before, but never touched them. She probably did not see it and just reached down for a rock. She is fine, but I can’t find a picture that matched exactly. When it unrolls it has a black “face” area. Thank you in advance for your help.
How you want your letter signed: Worried Mom
Dear Worried Mom,
This is sure a colorful Millipede, and though we are not certain of the species, we believe it might be Semionellus placidus which is pictured on BugGuide and reported from Virginia. Of the family Xystodesmidae, BugGuide indicates: “Many are brightly colored and all have stink glands.” We seem to recall that some Millipedes can release cyanide as a defense, but we will need to do additional research on that matter. We do not believe this colorful Millipede poses a threat.
18 thoughts on “What Do Millipedes Eat? Helpful Tips To Feed Your Pet Millipedes”
Their range appears now to extend as far north as Parry Sound, Ontario. We recently found several examples on a canoe trip through mixed hardwood & hemlock forest in that area.
Centipedes freak me out millopedes…. not so much.
Based on comparison photos on Nadiplochilo, this looks more like Apheloria virginiensis corrugata, whose little red sides secrete cyanide.
Thanks so much for your correction and links.
Still a member of Xystodesmidae either way though, and cyanide is of course stinky.
How long is the millipede shown in the photo, & where exactly was it found in the Philippines ?
Might it be a Spirobolus sp. ? This genus of giant millpedes (some brightly-banded) is naturally-distributed across the Philippines & the nearby region. Likewise for Thyropygus sp. Egs.
1) Spirobolus walkeri: Pic1, Pic2.
2) Spirobolus bungii: Pic3, Pic4.
3) Thyropygus bispinus (Tiger Millipede): Pic5.
For a more exotic but still Old World species (from Africa), perhaps a Pelmatojulus sp. ? Egs.
4) Pelmatojulus tigrinus (Tiger Millipede): Pic6, Pic7.
5) Pelmatojulus ligulatus & P. excisus: Pic8.
Similar-looking New World species would include Anadenobolus monilicornis (Bumblebee Millipede) & Rhinocricus spp.
Thanks for all of your suggestions. We are unable to provide you with any additional information on the Millipede. This posting was made in 2007 and we did not maintain contact information on Stefan from Denmark.
Looks like Nyssodesmus python.
Thanks for the link and matching photograph. This looks like a match to us as well.
Hundreds of millipedes in our house, they seem to like carpet (my new carpet!!) I know they dont eat it, but when they die on it, they leave a pink PERMANENT stain. I dont know where are they coming from: drains, garden, windows?? please help me!!
I just bought a new house in the woods of NE PA and one of these just came cawling out of my propane fireplace. Are they dangerous?
Some Millipedes secrete cyanide when threatened, but not in quantities high enough to harm a human, to the best of our knowledge.
This is without a doubt Anoplodesmus, possibly Anoplodesmus saussurii. Asiomorpha is much smaller and not quite of this color, and the paranota are different. Harpahe only occurs in the Pacific northwest of North America, and the paranota are different there as well. It is also from a different family. All online references regarding Harpahe in India are due to amateurs basically Googling “black and yellow millipede”, seeing a very similar and common species from North America, and assuming it’s the only millipede in the world that must look like that. There is far more information available on Harpahe than Anoplodesmus. This black and yellow color scheme is actually a fairly common one amongst polydesmid millipedes.
Thanks so much for the informative comment.
How do you get rid of milipedes. What draws the to the house?
We do not provide extermination advice.
Yellow banded millipede?
I have spotted yellow-spotted millipede Asiomorpha coarctarta from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Does it excrete Hydrogen cyanide gas? This is very much similar to Harpaphae haydeniana-North American species, almond-scented or CYANIDE millipede.