Characteristics of all Types of Millipedes, Their Natural Habitat, and Feeding Habits
Are you scared every time you set your eye on a millipede? Sick of their suspicious coiling as if they are up to something? Here are the types of millipedes and the reasons for their fishy behavior.
Giant arthropods are harmless and nearly blind. Millipedes have a tough exterior exoskeleton and many tiny enjoined legs. They strongly resemble crustaceans and insects. These arthropods have elongated slim bodies made of numerous segments, covered by an exoskeleton. Each section holds two pairs of legs.
Most millipedes have glands along the body that produce toxic substances to keep off predators. They are mostly dark colored except for a few toxic ones with bright coloring.
Almost everybody has seen a millipede before. As common as they are though, many people have a hard time identifying one when they see it. That’s because there are a few different creatures that look similar and have a tendency to hang out in your garden or backyard.
Whether you’re trying to get rid of problematic millipedes or you just want to learn about the bugs in your backyard, this guide can help. Keep reading to learn about spotting millipedes, their habitat, what they eat and more.
Millipedes are arthropods that belong to the group Myriapoda. Unlike some other similar creatures, they have spiracles and they do not have direct copulatory organs, meaning they do not mate in a traditional manner.
Millipedes reproduce by depositing eggs in the soil, which will then hatch over time. Typically they reach sexual maturity, they do not reproduce this way, around the second year of their life. Many millipedes can live about four years if they do not become prey or get removed from a garden or backyard.
What Does a Millipede Look Like?
Millipedes are common in North America, and seeing one in your backyard or garden could be a likely occurrence depending on how much grass and dirt you have. For homes with large gardens or grassy areas, millipedes are almost sure to be found if you choose to look hard enough.
Millipedes are typically about two to four centimeters long with a dark brown appearance, though some may take on a more reddish tone in the sunlight. Certain types of millipedes may appear to be two-toned or striped, but this is generally only because of variations in color on the body of the millipede.
While you may not think they are the most attractive thing in your garden, millipedes should be easy to identify once you know what you’re looking for. In general, they are found in large groups, though they can be seen one or two at a time.
Are They Insects?
Millipedes are arthropods, though many people assume that they are insects. Because of their appearance, this is a pretty easy mistake to make.
The main difference is the way their bodies are made up:
- An insect has three main body segments.
- Millipedes have considerably more body segments. Insects also have three pairs of legs, which does not match up with the millipede.
How Many Legs Does a Millipede Have?
Millipedes, because they are arthropods, have legs on every segment of their body, which is a lot more than the three that insects have. What most people don’t realize though is that millipedes don’t actually have a set number of legs.
A millipede can have anywhere from approximately 40 to 400 legs. Millipedes are also able to stay healthy and continue to move if some of their legs are damaged.
As millipedes get older, their number of legs may actually change over time!
Millipedes definitely have a preferred habitat and a place they want to live in your garden or backyard.
Moist habitats are where many people find millipedes:
- Under rocks, beneath beds of wet leaves or near the roots of plants are typically where you will see millipedes.
- Piles of grass clippings, especially right after your lawn is mowed, may also make an ideal short-term home for millipedes.
In many cases, millipedes do not move far from home since they tend to find food in the same area. While it isn’t too unlikely that you’ll see a millipede in a grassy area, they’re much more common in areas with dirt, flowers, and plants.
You may also find millipedes under your home, beneath exterior structures like garden sheds, or beneath a dog house type enclosure.
Common Millipede Species
Majority of millipedes in America are cylindrical shaped and drag their movement. Most of them live in wet forests and moist gardens or shaded bushes.
- Cylindroiulus Caeruleocinctus
This is a large kidney shaped millipede (20 to 30 mm). It has a delicate blend of brown-black color with brass-like edges on the segments. It has no rear pointing on the telson. Mostly found near residential areas with leafy vegetation including small-forested areas and bushy compounds as well as parks.
White legged Snake Millipede (Tachypodoiulus niger)
This millipede grows up to 25 mm. It has a banded appearance with pale brown segments and darker spots along the sides. The eye area has a black facade across eyes and a light tail end. It mostly hides in moist gardens and woodlands and gardens, rotting wood or leaf waste. Snake millipedes feed on decomposing leaves.
The tubular black body holds its contrasting white tiny legs. It has a pointed rear projection pointed away from the telson. Its black body and contrasting white legs (about 100 of them) make it possible to recognize the white legged snake millipedes. It also has a protruding rear segment.Millipedes feed on decaying matter such as algae and vegetation.
This type of millipede mostly lives in woodlands, in gardens, and anywhere with rotting foliage, under rocks where it can hide. It eats dead plant matter and algae. It’s useful in the backyard as it returns decaying plant matter to the soil.
- Striped Millipede (Ommatoiulus sabulosus)
This species is a cylindrical, plump, and brown millipede easily identified by the ginger stripes along its segmented body. This is one of the largest millipede species. It is mostly found in sandy areas during the day and it likes to hide under old logs and at the top of trees or internal walls.
The giant millipede belongs to the Spirostreptida order. Most of these creatures live in tropical as well as arid coastal areas of East Africa, along with the shorelines, in moist bushy areas and mostly seen during the rainy season. Large millipede grows up to approximately 12 inches in length. Most of them live up to five years old; they feed on decaying plant matter.
Scientifically known as Archispirostreptus Gigas, one of the largest millipedes in the world is the giant African millipede. It grows up to (38.5 cm) 15.2 inches in length, and (67 mm) 2.6 inches in circumference. On average, it has 256 legs, though the number of legs varies according to each creature.
Are millipedes poisonous? No, they are not, but many species have glands that produce toxic fluids when touched. They irritate the skin and can cause lasting skin bruising. Further details can be found here.
The giant millipede mostly dwells in East Africa, Mozambique and the wetlands of South Africa.
The African arthropod is black and lives up to 7 years maximum. Giant millipedes get free grooming services from small mites in exchange for protection and free meals, providing a unique symbolic relationship between the two animals. Mites like to crawl on the millipedes’ exoskeleton and between their tiny legs.
Found in North America, the American giant millipede (Narceus americanus) grows up to 10 cm, and take a cylindrical shape, unlike the regular sized flat-shaped millipedes.
They are dark red-brown or black with a red line on the sides of each segment. They have two pairs of legs on the segments, rather than a pair on each segment. However, the first four parts hold a single pair of legs, and the subsequent abdominal segments have two pairs of legs. Like their African cousins, American Giant millipedes eat decaying plant matter.
Due to their size, American giant millipedes mostly live in forested areas in decaying logs and on wet forested leaf litter. They also roll up into a tight ball to evade predators or secrete poisonous liquids. They do not bite, and cannot crawl faster like their lethal biting cousins, the centipedes.
North American Millipedes overstay in rotting logs or underground soil and come to the surface in spring to mate.
Order Polydesmida – Flat-Backed Millipedes
The Polydesmida class forms the largest type of millipedes, with nearly 3,500 species. The term Flat-Backed millipedes derive from the keels on each body segment. These millipedes vary in length ranging from 3mm-130mm. They have no eyes and contains small pairs of legs from the lower body sections.
Most of the larger poly-desmids change their body color to warn predators of their poisonous liquid secretions. Flat–backed millipedes are mostly found in rotting leaves, which also make up for most of their dietary needs.
Different Colors of Millipedes
Most North American millipedes come in diverse colors, depending on the geographical location. Desert millipedes have dark brown bodies; the dangerous ones don a bright orange or yellow/bright orange tan. Some have black stripes or red stripes on their sides.
In America, they come in many different colors and include a unique line of a few giant millipedes that dwell in the desert instead of the typical tropics environment.
Spread out across North Africa, millipedes come in an assortment of colors. The bright colored ones often glow at night to warn predators of the looming danger if approached.
- Brown/Black Millipedes
Mostly found in North America. They are docile, live in seclusion in decaying trees, bushes, and sometimes found in residential backyards.
- White/Red Millipedes
These brightly colored species have unusual anosmatic coloring that acts as a defensive mechanism to warn predators of the toxic substances released when touched.
House and Garden Millipedes
Millipedes mostly resurface at night and hide beneath dark decaying objects during the day where it’s damp. They are harmless creatures, and some folks grow fond of them and prefer to keep them as garden or house pets. Garden Millipedes have little impact on our agricultural or social well-being. They do not bite, and their protective secretions cause little or no harm to humans.
Humans should tolerate millipedes, when possible. If they invade your compound to warrant removal, you may use non-chemical methods.
The safest way to discourage millipedes off your yard is to:
- Regularly sweep decomposing leaves and leaf litter as often as you can.
- Remove soil borders from your outer wall building and trim unwanted vegetation and young shrubs around the fence.
- Declutter your yard and discard old boxes and logs lying around the compound.
- Reduce thatch in your garden to discourage millipedes by clearing out dead leaves during the early fall.
- Within your home, millipedes die naturally because of the dry environment. When you find a millipede in your house, gently push it with a broom, and toss it out. Millipedes don’t attack humans when confronted, but they coil into a hard ball, making it easier for you to move it without necessarily killing it. If you move it to a dry area, it will eventually die.
- Seal all the huge cracks behind baseboards where wet floors may attract millipedes as hideouts within your home.
- Place a dehumidifier to sufficiently dry the dumpy areas.
How Millipedes and Centipedes work as a Team to Improve Your Garden
Unlike the harmless millipedes, Centipedes are dangerous carnivorous arthropods. They paralyze their prey with two pointed appendages, which also act as limbs.
Millipedes and centipedes play essential functions that enhance the soil in your garden:
- In the soil food chain, both the millipedes and centipedes make up as the first soil inhabitants and some of the most common earthly invertebrates.
- Their importance to the development of soil nutrients holds great significance to the stability of backyard lawns and gardens.
Millipedes play a central role, though a little less dramatic than the centipedes. If you live in an environment without the inhibition of earthworms in the soil, millipedes do fill up this significant role. They are dependable for 10 percent of decomposition of the leaf litter in your yard. Millipedes enhance the creation of microorganisms into nutrients that work in close collaboration to turn debris into rich soil.
Maintaining a dry atmosphere through the year will keep millipedes and other crawling arthropods away from your yard. Millipedes provide an abundance of soil and are crucial soil decomposers.
The cyanide-generating types of millipedes demonstrate their significance to the ecosystem. They form an essential part of humid ecosystems for their role in regurgitating decayed vegetation and cycling soil nutrients back into the ground. Diplopods influence direct decomposition by breaking leaf debris and indirectly moving microbial biomass.
To learn more about difference between centipedes and millipedes, see this page.
Tropical Ecosystems Management
Soil experts who study the influence of millipedes from across different environments all agree on the importance of millipedes in soil chemistry and the overall ecological cycle. Depending on the arthropods density in a given area and the mass leaf ratio, the process of recycling and decomposing improves the affected regions.
Soil microbial significantly increases with millipede density in any given area. The type of ground foliage and the overall population of millipedes affect the soil pH extensively; because of the direct effect on decaying leaf litter and the overall quality of the foliage.
The exploration of soil value shows that various types of millipedes with the help of soil fungi earthly warms, and insects all contribute to rich soil formation. They help by breaking down foliage and soil debris in tropical areas. However, millipedes have a small or no direct effect on microbial biomass.
Management of millipedes and other insects in your property may prove as the best treatment for crawling millipedes. These arthropods feed on the decayed matter; they may die sooner, or else seek shelter under decaying wood near your foundation, or hide under rotting cabinets in your bathroom or kitchen areas. Reduction of dampness helps reduce millipede numbers exponentially.
A lot of people worry that millipedes in their garden will eat bugs that actually help with the soil or keep more problematic pests away, millipedes have a vegetarian diet. In fact, they may actually be able to improve the quality of your soil, helping your flowers and plants thrive year round.
Many people confuse millipedes with centipedes for obvious reasons, but when it comes to their diet, they couldn’t be much different. While centipedes hunt for pray like small flies or mosquitoes, millipedes thrive primarily on decaying matter like leaves and parts of plants.
To find out more details on difference between centipedes and millipedes, go here.
Millipedes may seem like a garden nuisance, but they are actually a part of the life cycle of soil, helping with decomposition and nutrient properties.
What Attracts Millipedes?
Millipedes are attracted to an area because it makes for good habitat and is home to a potential food source. Typically, food sources include wet leaves and decaying organic matter.
Since millipedes like to live in dark, moist environments, beds of nutrient-rich soil used for planting are common backyard homes for them. They can also be found in plants or pots of dirt and areas around your home that are watered regularly since they prefer the moisture.
Are They Hurting My Garden?
Millipedes may seem like a nuisance to a lot of people, and while they aren’t necessarily pleasant viewing, they are not hurting your soil. The fact is that millipedes are an important part of creating long-term healthy soil in many places because they tend to eat decaying, dead matter.
Too many millipedes in your garden may be problematic for planting, but if you only see a few every once in a while, they’re probably actually helping your soil do its work. You might even want to thank them, at least in part, if your flowers, fruits or vegetables are thriving!
Are Millipedes Poisonous? Find further details here. Many people are more familiar with centipedes than millipedes because of their unique colors and large size. This makes them much more likely fodder for nature television shows and photographs.
Unlike centipedes though, millipedes do not bite and they are not poisonous to animals or people. Instead, they thrive on a vegetarian diet that will actually benefit most homeowners.
Millipedes tend to move very slowly, so they can easily be moved from one part of your home to another. Finding millipedes under your dog house, for example, may be a problem, but moving them to your garden could improve your soil. Collect millipedes with wet or porous dirt and simply move them in a plastic container or with a garden shovel.
What Eats Millipedes?
Millipedes are not exactly high on the food chain, and in the average backyard, they are prey for a number of different animals:
- Shrews, badgers, birds, raccoons, possums and toads will all eat millipedes if they are able to find them in the dirt. These animals can easily eat large groups of millipedes when they find them in the dirt.
- In many cases, larger animals like badgers will go after full-grown millipedes with ease.
- Young millipedes are especially susceptible to being hunted by other animals. Large ants, ground beetles and even spiders can eat groups of young millipedes.
Millipedes may not be the most attractive thing in your garden, but they don’t do any damage to your outdoor space. In fact, they may actually be providing useful benefits when it comes to the nutrient value of your soil.
Unlike centipedes, they also do not sting or bite, so they aren’t going to cause any harm if you, your children or your pets come into contact with them. While you might still want to wear gloves if you need to collect and move them, they aren’t going to bring any harm your way.
If you do need to move millipedes, collecting them along with soil that they are attracted to is your best bet. Typically wherever you find the millipedes will be an area where the soil is right for them.
If you’re going to transplant them to your garden to improve the soil, try to take as much of the soil that they like there. Otherwise, they may leave your garden to try and find a better food source.
You can find further details of Millipedes Control here.