Even though their name literally means “1,000 feet,” millipedes don’t actually have that many legs.
It might seem like it, however, if you ever experience an infestation of these creepy bugs.
What attracts millipedes? Millipedes are attracted by moist, humid conditions that provide shelter and support their diet of decomposing plant material, such as compost piles, wood stacks, rotten tree stumps, mulch, manure, damp basements or crawl spaces, and fallen leaves.
One of the best ways to prevent millipedes from getting inside your home is to know exactly what attracts them in terms of conditions and food sources.
As you read through the following information, you might develop a new-found appreciation for these helpful bugs and realize that they aren’t so creepy after all.
What Do Millipedes Eat?
Millipedes almost exclusively eat decomposing material.
Some examples of this include mulched flower beds, damp soil, compost piles, garbage, dog houses, sheds, manure, piles of cut grass, and fallen leaves.
If you’ve ever lifted rotting bark off of a log, you’ve probably seen a variety of grubs, beetles, and millipedes.
Similarly, millipedes might congregate in rotten stumps or under rocks and paving stones.
You might also find some millipedes drowned in in-ground pools, where they were looking for moisture and then fell into the pool.
Can millipedes swim at all? Find out here.
If their current environment is too hot or dry, millipedes will eat living plants, causing damage.
They can utilize the moisture in the living plants. This is rare, however, and millipedes are not considered to be a major threat to crops.
Millipedes shed their skin several times throughout their life cycle and then eat the molted shell in order to obtain calcium.
On occasion, some millipedes are carnivorous and get their calcium by eating small insects, snails, or earthworms.
What Are Millipedes?
Millipedes are long and slender arthropods, which means they have a hard exoskeleton, no internal spine, and segmented bodies.
They have two sets of legs per segment, except for the head and the next three segments, which each have one pair of legs, and can grow to around 150 millimeters in length.
Most species of millipedes have between 100 and 200 legs. In all, there are more than 10,000 species of millipedes, spread out on every continent except Antarctica.
Millipedes’ eggs are most often laid in the same environment in which millipedes feel most comfortable: cool, humid places with decaying organic matter.
Eating and digesting decomposing plant matter makes millipedes incredibly beneficial to the soil.
They play a crucial role in the ecosystem and, like earthworms, help to accelerate decomposition and provide nourishment to plants.
So, the goal should not be to completely eliminate millipedes from the area but to limit their access to your home.
Many people often confuse millipedes with centipedes. Learn how to tell the difference here.
Why Millipedes Try To Get Inside
Millipedes prefer to remain outdoors where food and moisture are plentiful.
Under normal circumstances, you might not come across millipedes in the wild. This is because of their tendency to remain hidden.
However, if the weather becomes too hot or dry, especially in the summer, millipedes will try to find cool, humid locations. Thus, they’ll head toward your basement or crawlspace.
The opposite weather also might cause millipedes to leave their natural habitat.
If there has been an excessive amount of rain, they will seek a drier environment. If the temperature is unseasonably cold, they will seek warmth.
Millipedes also seek shelter and safety from predators such as small reptiles, frogs, birds, small mammals, and insects.
These critters enjoy the calcium and protein supplied by millipedes as an important part of their diet.
How Do They Enter?
Millipedes are crafty and small, and can enter through spaces that aren’t immediately evident to the naked eye.
They can squeeze under doorframes and between bricks in an imperfect foundation.
They can burrow deep enough to find ways to get into crawlspaces and basements.
It might be difficult to determine exactly how they are infesting the space, as their entry points can be quite small and hard to spot.
If you’re frequently spotting millipedes and are eager to make them disappear, you’ll want to read our article, “How to Get Rid of Millipedes.”
You’ll learn basic prevention guidelines as well as both natural and pesticide solutions that will eliminate them quickly and easily.
Getting Rid of Millipedes Without Chemicals
Essentially, if there are large numbers of millipedes inside, that means there are even larger numbers outside.
The best tactic is to find the larger source and eliminate its ease of access.
Though millipedes are docile and relatively safe, they are unsightly and potentially frightening.
However, eating and digesting decomposing plant matter makes millipedes incredibly beneficial to the soil.
They play a crucial role in the ecosystem and, like earthworms, help the life cycle of gardens and plants.
The goal should not be to completely eliminate millipedes from the area but to keep them outside where they belong.
If you’ve lost the first round of the battle and need to remove these bugs from your house, you should know that it’s not entirely safe to pick up millipedes.
When threatened, they secrete a cyanide-like substance that can cause minor irritation on human skin and in eyes (some tropical species of millipedes can cause much more serious irritation).
Instead, use a broom or vacuum cleaner to suck up the bugs. Ideally, though, you will be able to prevent these bugs from entering before they infiltrate.
In your efforts to discourage the bugs from coming into your basement or crawlspace, there are a couple of simple steps you can take.
- Keep garbage bags tied up tightly, and completely shut garbage cans or dumpsters.
- Move compost heaps and wood piles farther away from your house.
- Consider using pea gravel or other non-organic materials to protect flower beds that line the house, as millipedes are drawn to decomposing plant material found in mulch.
- Rake leaves before they begin to decompose in the yard, making sure to rake them away from the house.
- If the drainpipe from the house’s gutter system ends too close to the foundation, consider using an extension to direct rainwater and snowmelt away from the house.
- If there is moisture in your home, use a dehumidifier to dry out the space, making it unattractive to millipedes.
- Make sure all exterior doors have appropriate weather stripping at the bottom to prevent entry.
- Remember that millipedes are seeking humid, dark places, so eliminate as many as possible to discourage them from taking up residence.
If these solutions are impossible or impractical, or if they have failed to solve the problem, there are pesticide options to consider.
Always obey all safety warnings and instructions on the pesticide container, and keep the chemicals away from children.
(We have a complete list of effective pesticide options for eliminating millipedes in this article.)
If you’ve located the area into which the millipedes are entering your home, apply a home-safe pesticide, such as Ortho Home Defense, to that location.
Be sure to cover window perimeters and doorframes thoroughly. You might also consider applying the product on crawlspace vents and utility openings.
It is impractical and ineffective to apply pesticides on grass, dirt, and other natural matter since the millipedes can burrow deep enough to not be impacted by the chemical.
Though millipedes are not aggressive, they can be a nuisance if they enter and infest your home.
The goal should not be to completely remove them from your property, since they are beneficial to the soil and are not considered destructive to plants and crops.
Since millipedes are attracted to decaying plant material and cool, humid environments, the best course of action is to make it difficult for them to invade by moving attractants away from the house.
Store any form of decaying organic material (compost piles, wood, mulch, garbage, manure, fallen leaves, grass clippings, etc.) away from the house.
Make sure your home (including basements and crawlspaces) is as sealed and dry as possible.
If absolutely necessary, use a pesticide around entryways, vents, and utility openings.
If you’d like more information on dealing with millipedes and answers to common questions about these bugs, be sure to check out all our other millipede articles.
How Are Millipedes and Centipedes Different?
Centipedes have only one set of legs per body segment, while millipedes have two.
The legs of millipedes are positioned underneath the body, but the centipedes’ legs are located on the sides of the body.
Centipedes move quickly, while millipedes are slower and strong for burrowing purposes.
Millipedes primarily eat decomposing organic material (making them detritivores) while centipedes use venom to kill their prey (making them carnivores).