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When most people think of millipedes, their skin begins to crawl. The fact that these creatures are virtually harmless to humans doesn’t take away from how creepy they are. Millipedes are worth more than just a good scare, though. They also benefit their natural habitats.
Millipedes move rather slowly through the soil while eating dead and decaying plant matter. The slow, deliberate way they move helps to rejuvenate the soil, while their diet helps the natural process of decomposition. When millipedes migrate from outdoors into your home or garden, they can quickly become a nuisance and have you scrambling to get them out of your personal space.
Millipedes aren’t insects; they belong to a subphylum of arthropods. These invertebrates have a long body, made up of many segments. Each segment has two pairs of legs each. Most millipedes are herbivorous and shy away from light, choosing to live in the soil or under stones and logs. Their primary diet consists of decaying wood and dead leaves, but they will eat live vegetation when necessary to survive. Millipedes vary in size. When they shed their skin, commonly referred to as molting, they add new segments and legs.
Millipedes can live up to eight years and reproduce by laying eggs. Each spring, they lay 20 to 300 eggs in the soil. In ideal conditions — when there is an excess of moisture and abundant food sources — millipede populations can become quite large. When millipedes find that their natural habitat is no longer suitable due to weather conditions such as flooding or seasonal changes, they will migrate. These migrations can consist of a large number of millipedes, and they often end up invading homes and other buildings to find refuge.
Image via Flickr by Mick E. Talbot
Millipedes are nocturnal; the most common species are either black or brown. Other species can be red or orange. Millipedes typically grow to be 1 to 2 inches in length and bear a striking resemblance to worms, but they have two pairs of legs per segment. The name millipede translates to “thousand legs,” though they don’t have that many. Their average number of legs is usually somewhere between 80 to 400.
Millipede’s legs are somewhat captivating when you watch them walk, as their legs move in a wave-like pattern. When they are startled, millipedes curl into a small tight coil as an effort to defend their more vulnerable underbellies.
Millipedes live in every U.S. state, including Hawaii and Alaska. They are found in the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well. Millipedes will typically live in outdoor habitats that are damp such as underneath dog houses or storage buildings, grass clippings or dead leaves, and mulch. They will find their way inside your home if their natural environment has become dry and hot.
Once millipedes have made their way into your home, they will hide under stored boxes, furniture, or other stationery items that provide them with cover. They aren’t known to cause property damage, but due to their appearance, the sheer numbers, and the odorous chemicals they release, they can be quite a nuisance when left unchecked. When millipedes die, the chemicals in their bodies can stain indoor surface areas and outdoor patio floors.
Though millipedes can excrete a combination of irritating chemicals that have an unpleasant odor and can cause skin rashes, they are otherwise harmless to humans. They do not bite or sting and, other than leaving a stain on surfaces when they die, they cause no significant damage to structures, furniture, or stored foods. Small animals may be adversely affected by the chemicals that millipedes excrete when they are startled or handled.
These unsightly pests are just that: unsightly. If millipedes have invaded your home and you are moving stored boxes or furniture around, they can give you quite the scare. They migrate in numbers, so depending on the conditions of their natural environments, you may find that they have taken refuge in your home or business. Due to the potential quantities of millipedes, you could discover them infesting your home or business, and it is of the utmost importance to gain control of these pests sooner rather than later.
As with many unwanted pests, taking the time to inspect your home for areas that allow easy access is beneficial to preventing millipede infestations. If you find cracks in your foundation, openings around windows or doors, or damaged wood, taking measures to seal off these areas and repairing any damage can go a long way in preventing millipedes from entering your home or business. Keep in mind that millipedes need moisture to survive. If your home is having issues with humidity, correcting those issues can deter them from entering your home and will kill them if they can’t find their way outside.
It is recommended to seek out a professional pest management agency if you feel that you cannot handle a millipede infestation on your own. The company will be able to assess the situation, devise a preventative plan, and eradicate the current invasion. Professional help from trained pest management technicians can give you the added peace of mind that your family, home, and pets are well protected from the threat of unwanted pests.
Millipedes may be beneficial to the natural habitat, but they can’t be useful if they are inside your home or business. Prevention, though not wholly successful at all times, is the best place to start when battling against millipedes. Learning how millipedes survive will allow you to have a better understanding of how to control their populations on your property and help to keep them out of your home and in their natural habitats.