Millipedes are docile decomposers. They don’t bite, they don’t sting, and they don’t have pincers to fight back. Adults are usually long, cylindrical and wormlike in appearance. Color is typically blackish or brownish, but some can be red, orange or molted patterns. Babies have no more than 7 body segments and 3 pairs of legs when they hatch. Each time a millipede molts, it adds more body segments and legs. Fun fact! They eat their molted skins to restore lost supplies of calcium.
The term millipede comes from 2 latin words – mil, meaning thousand and ped, meaning feet. Contrary to their name, most milipedes actually have less than 100 legs. The record holding milipede with the most legs has a mere 750! Millipedes have 2 pairs of legs per body segment. This fact is what seperates millipedes from centipedes.
When threatened, millipedes coil their bodies into a spiral. Their backs are covered by hardened plates called tergites, but they have soft underbellies. Because they are not fast insects, they can’t outrun their predators. When they coil, it protects their vulnerable bellies. Another form of defense mechanism is “chemical warfare.” Some millipedes have stink glands, called ozopores, from which they emit a foul-smelling and awful tasting compound to repel predators. These chemicals can burn or damage your skin, so remember to wash your hands if you handle these insects.
Millipedes have high moisture needs, like rollie polies. They are typically found in areas of high moisture and decaying vegetation, such as under trash, piles of grass clippings, flower-bed mulches, leaf litter, crawl spaces, etc. In autumn, millipedes will migrate in great numbers. This is the result of natural hibernation movement, heavy rains and a rising water table forcing them out of their subterranean homes. They cannot survive indoors for more than a few days unless there are high moisture conditions and a food supply present.
A key in controlling them is to reduce or eliminate the moist areas that they like to inhabit. Here are some tips:
– Mow your lawn closely and edge it to promote quicker drying
– Remove debris such as accumulations of leaves and wood debris, rocks, heavy mulch, stored firewood, etc, off of the ground
– Provide adequate ventilation in crawl spaces to reduce sheltered, damp hiding places
– Water lawns in early morning to allow grass to dry during the day
– Call your local pest control provider!
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