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Fascinating Millipede Facts!

Exploring the Intriguing World of Millipedes

Millipedes are intriguing creatures often found in gardens, forests, and sometimes even in homes. With their numerous legs and unique biology, they have become a topic of interest for many. In this article, we will explore fascinating facts about millipedes, their life cycle, behavior, and their role in the ecosystem. We will also discuss how to care for them in artificial habitats.

Millipede Anatomy and Leg Count

Contrary to popular belief, the name “millipede” in Latin, which means “thousand feet,” is not an accurate representation of the actual number of legs these creatures possess (Shelomi, 2012). In reality, no millipede species have been recorded to have a thousand legs. The leggiest millipede discovered to date is Illacme plenipes, which has up to 750 legs (Marek & Bond, 2006).

As millipedes grow and molt (shed their exoskeleton), they add new body segments, each with two pairs of legs (Chapman, 2013). Millipedes are born with only a few body segments, which increase in number as they age.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Millipedes have a lifespan of approximately seven to ten years (Brewer, Sierwald, & Bond, 2012). They reach sexual maturity in their second year, after which they can start reproducing. Female millipedes lay their eggs in the soil, usually in small burrows or under decaying matter. The eggs hatch into tiny millipedes, which will molt and grow throughout their lives.

Diet and Ecological Role

Millipedes primarily feed on decaying organic matter such as dead wood, leaves, and vegetation (Chapman, 2013). Occasionally, they may consume live plant seedlings or parts of plants underground. As decomposers, millipedes play a vital role in breaking down organic matter and returning nutrients to the soil.

Interaction with Humans

Millipedes are generally harmless to humans, as they do not bite or sting. Some people even keep millipedes as pets in terrariums. However, certain tropical millipede species can produce chemicals that irritate human skin if they feel threatened or attacked (Eisner et al., 1999). Other species may emit an unpleasant odor, while others curl up into a spiral for protection.

Millipedes vs. Centipedes

Millipedes and centipedes are often confused, but they have distinct differences. Centipedes have longer antennae, fewer but longer legs, and only one pair of legs per body segment (Chapman, 2013). They are also capable of biting humans, with their venom causing significant pain. In contrast, millipedes have shorter antennae, more legs (two pairs per body segment), and shorter legs.

Caring for Millipedes in Artificial Habitats

Millipedes can thrive in a variety of natural habitats, such as mulched flower beds, under dog houses, or in piles of dead leaves. The essential requirements for their survival are high moisture levels and organic matter (Brewer et al., 2012). To keep millipedes in artificial habitats, provide adequate ventilation, maintain a moist environment (but not too wet), and offer a mixture of soil and dead organic matter.

Millipedes and Pest Control

Although millipedes are not considered pests, they can sometimes become a nuisance when they enter homes. They are typically found in houses when there is rotting wood or other decaying organic matter nearby (Brewer et al., 2012). To prevent millipedes from entering your home, seal any gaps or openings and ensure proper ventilation in damp areas such as basements.

Moreover, millipedes can also be beneficial in gardens due to their role as decomposers. They help break down dead plant material, thereby enriching the soil and promoting healthy plant growth.

Common Millipede Species

There are over 12,000 known species of millipedes worldwide, with more yet to be discovered (Brewer et al., 2012). Some common millipede species include:

  1. North American Millipede (Narceus americanus): Found throughout the eastern United States, this species is known for its large size and cylindrical body, which can grow up to 4 inches in length.
  2. Flat-Backed Millipede (Polydesmida): This group of millipedes gets its name from the flattened appearance of their body segments. They are commonly found in leaf litter and decaying wood.
  3. Pill Millipede (Glomerida): Pill millipedes are unique due to their ability to roll into a tight ball when disturbed. They are typically found in leaf litter and under logs.

Millipedes’ Unique Contributions to the Ecosystem

Millipedes are fascinating creatures with a unique biology and important ecological role. By understanding their life cycle, behavior, and interaction with humans, we can appreciate their presence in our environment and even learn to care for them in artificial habitats. As decomposers, millipedes play a crucial part in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, making them valuable members of the natural world.


Fact Sources:

Brewer, M. S., Sierwald, P., & Bond, J. E. (2012). Millipede taxonomy after 250 years: classification and taxonomic practices in a mega-diverse yet understudied arthropod group. PloS one, 7(5),e36816.

Chapman, A. D. (2013). Numbers of living species in Australia and the World (2nd ed.). Australian Biodiversity Information Services. Retrieved from

Eisner, T., Eisner, M., Attygalle, A. B., Deyrup, M., & Meinwald, J. (1999). Rendering the inedible edible: Circumvention of a millipede’s chemical defense by a predaceous beetle larva (Phengodidae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 96(6), 2632-2637.

Marek, P. E., & Bond, J. E. (2006). Biodiversity hotspots: rediscovery of the world’s leggiest animal. Nature, 441(7094), 707-707.

Shelomi, M. (2012). Where are all the presolar grains? A question of taxonomy. Astrophysics and Space Science, 341(1), 273-277. Retrieved on September 12, 2021.