Millipedes probably give many people the creeps, but are they bad? With their long wriggling bodies, and all the undulating legs, they can be pretty disconcerting, but millipedes don’t deserve the poor reputation. Millipedes are very beneficial to the soil and anything that grows from the ground.
Millipedes prefer to feed on dead and decaying plant material like leaves and damp wood particles. They help break down and recycle old plant material. They don’t bite, sting, or scratch. The most they will do to you is emit a foul odor in your presence as a defense mechanism.
The good news for anyone who has millipedes in their home is that they do not harm anything in your house. In fact, millipedes are not all that bad.
- Millipedes are harmless and do not do any damage to homes, gardens, or the landscape.
- Millipedes are beneficial to have around as they improve the quality of the soil and may eat smaller pest insects.
- The presence of millipedes in the soil indicates a higher quality and health of the soil.
9 Reasons Millipedes Aren’t That Bad
Millipedes are extremely important for soil health. Their tunneling helps aerate the soil and their consumption of decaying matter speeds up the decomposition process, making it easier for microorganisms to do their job.
An article from the Journal of Agriculture tells us that these amazing soil dwellers can even change the pH of the soil, with one such study finding they raised it from an acidic 5.5 to a neutral 7.7. These soil experts have been around, working to improve the soil, for some 445 million years now!
1. Millipedes Break Down Leaf Litter
Millipedes are quite beneficial in breaking down organic material. They are some of nature’s best recyclers of dead leaves. Without these many-legged arthropods eating up to five times their body weight a day in leaves, deciduous forests would be “swimming” in leaf litter.
These arthropods are quite essential in getting rid of much of the dropped leaves on every continent of the world except for Antarctica. They are as essential to helping break down and eat leaves as earthworms are.
Millipedes are the first step in the process of breaking down fallen leaves. They will chew through and eat damp leaves, leaving much smaller pieces of leaves that decompose much faster.
2. Millipedes Break Down Compost
If you have ever tended your own compost heap, you know the benefits of worms and insects in helping to turn scraps and lawn waste into black gold. Millipedes can help with composting as well. Millipedes love soft, rotting plant matter like grass clippings and kitchen scraps.
As the millipedes tunnel through the compost pile, they help turn it over. Their tunnels open up channels for smaller insects and microbes to get through to further decompose the waste into new soil.
If you haven’t started composting, you should think about it, especially if you have any kind of garden plants or even houseplants. You can start small with a Utopia Kitchen Compost Bin for Kitchen Countertop. It’s small, and stylish enough to sit on your countertop, and it has a charcoal filter to keep any odors from seeping out.
3. Millipede Poop Is The Best Kind Of Poop
Gardeners have sworn by vermicompost (worm poo) for ages to help add nutrients to the soil in place of chemical fertilizers. But new reports are coming out saying that millicompost—millipede poop—is even more beneficial than old-fashioned worm casings.
Millipede poop contains more plant nutrients than worm poop. Milicompost can even help to balance out the soil’s pH. If the soil is too basic, milicompost can bring it down to a more neutral to slightly acidic pH over time.
Millicompost hasn’t caught on as big as vermicompost yet. Although, as people continue to search for more natural fertilizers that leave a smaller carbon footprint, we should see more millipede poop become commercially available.
4. Millipede Tunnels Aerate The Soil
Much like the way earthworms help to aerate the soil, millipedes do the same. The largest and smallest varieties of arthropods rarely create tunnels in the ground, but most others do.
Millipedes will dehydrate quickly, so they prefer damp climates under thick beds of wet leaves, in the ground, or under rotting logs and stumps. As they tunnel through the ground, they open up areas for water and nutrients to soak into the ground.
These tunnels also help to loosen compact soil, making it easier for plant roots to grow. This is yet another way the lowly millipede is not bad but rather beneficial to the environment.
5. Millipedes provide food for Beneficial Bacteria And Fungus
Bacteria and fungi are some of the biggest decomposers in the natural world. If these two powerhouse recyclers were absent from the world, the earth would be inhabitable because of the sheer mass of dead plants and leaf litter.
Unfortunately, bacteria and fungi have a hard time breaking down full-sized tree trunks and whole leaves. They need help from bigger creatures such as worms, beetles, and millipedes. These little critters help to break down the large pieces so the next step in decomposition can happen.
What the millipede eats gets processed through its digestive tract, leaving droppings behind. From here, beneficial bacteria and fungi finish the decomposition process. What’s left is a thick humus layer of soil packed with plant nutrition.
This layer of nutritive soil helps to fertilize plants and trees, as well as hold moisture in the soil longer. The extra moisture can help trees during times of drought.
6. Millipedes Are Indicators Of Soil Health
Barren, dry, compact, nutrient-lacking soil doesn’t grow plants without a lot of help. This kind of poor ground also won’t have many insects or beneficial critters running around.
So, if you see millipedes scurrying around under your mulch beds, under leaf piles, or around rotting tree stumps, you know your soil is healthy. Millipedes don’t travel far from their homes. When you notice these arthropods, you know that you have a healthy soil ecosystem.
7. Millipedes Don’t Feed On Structures
Unlike termites, carpenter ants, carpet beetles, and many other home-damaging insects, millipedes don’t feed your house, buildings, or furnishings. Millipedes prefer soft, damp, rotting plant material over anything else.
They don’t want to be inside your house because there is nothing for them to eat there. Millipedes can come into your house in large numbers when they migrate in spring and fall, but not on purpose. Millipedes don’t actively search out your home, instead, they simply wander in aimlessly through tiny gaps or cracks.
The presence of millipedes in your house doesn’t mean you have an infestation that’s going to cause structural damage. It’s more likely you have a millipede breeding area nearby. They can be a cleaning nuisance, but rest assured they aren’t feeding on your framing, siding, or any furnishings in your house.
8. Millipede Pets!
No, I didn’t misspell “pest.” Millipedes can make great, easy-to-care-for pets, especially for kids who are allergic to cats and dogs. Millipedes are easy to feed because they are herbivores, so no need to thaw frozen mice or get live crickets.
Compared to other pets, millipedes are cheap to house. All you need is an enclosure with a tight lid, a light source, and some peat moss or similar for it to burrow. You can start with this Zilla Micro Habitat Terrarium with Locking Latch. It’s great as a starter, and the locking lid will keep the pet from getting out until you let it out.
The temperament of a millipede is very docile. They don’t move fast, are quite easygoing, and don’t mind being held. Even if bugs give you the creeps, having a millipede around can help remove that feeling as you get used to it… maybe.
While millipedes as pets have a lot of “pros”, they aren’t without the occasional “con.” Big pet millipedes can excrete a bad-smelling odor, which can get on your hands if they are startled. It’s a defense mechanism, but you can wash it away with warm soapy water.
9. The Whole Circle Of Life Thing
There aren’t many animals that feed on millipedes because of their ability to give off a stench to deter predators. They’re like mini skunks of the arthropod universe! However, some predators either can’t smell or just don’t care and will eat millipedes anyway.
Some animals that eat millipedes are snakes, salamanders, and opossums. These predators are beneficial animals, one way or another. For example, snakes keep down rodent populations while salamanders and opossums help control insect populations.
It’s all about the circle of life, right?
Differentiating Millipedes From Centipedes
The many-legged, segmented millipede is not an insect but an arthropod in the class of Diplopoda. They have many segments and two pairs of legs growing out of each of those segments.
At first glance, millipedes might be mistaken for their foul-tempered cousin, the centipede. Here is a breakdown of the major differences between the two so you know if you’re dealing with a millipede or centipede:
|One pair per body segment
|Two pairs per body segment
|Curl into a tight coil
How To Keep Millipedes Outside
Even though we now know that millipedes aren’t that bad, we understand no one wants millipedes inside the house. So how do you keep these tiny arthropods outside?
If you’re ever unsure about how to deal with a pest inside your home, such as millipedes, we always recommend reaching out to a pest control specialist. Our nationwide pest control finder can connect you with a local professional in your area.
If you want to try to handle the situation yourself, we have a few suggestions!
Pesticides And Insecticides Have Little Effect
Spraying pesticides often has little effect on millipedes. You can put down a barrier spray that should keep out ants, spiders, roaches, and other insects, but millipedes are like tiny little tanks. They’ll go straight through the chemical barrier like it wasn’t there.
Don’t Crush Or Vacuum Them
Once they are inside, you don’t want to step on them or crush them because they could stain your floors and let off an odor that’s difficult to get rid of. Since they are so susceptible to dehydration, they usually curl up and expire within the first couple of hours they are inside.
Vacuuming essentially has the same effect, except you’ll spread the smell around even more. Once they are sucked up, they will spray the hose and the inside of the vacuum cleaner with a foul smell that will permeate your house.
Sweep Them Up
Sweeping them up is probably going to be the best way to get them out of your house. Use a broom or even a piece of cardboard to gently sweep them into a cup or dustpan. From here, place them outside so they can continue being beneficial to your soil.
We have a more detailed guide on the things to do if you find a millipede in your house here.
Seal Up Any Holes
The best thing you can do to keep millipedes outside is to seal up any small cracks, holes, or crevices where they could come in. This can be difficult because some millipedes can be only an inch long fully grown.
Look carefully around the perimeter of your house, usually around the foundation, or if you have a crawlspace, they could get in through there. Seal up any tiny holes you see with caulk, silicone, or gap filler. Gorilla Waterproof Caulk & Seal 100% Silicone Sealant works great on small holes where millipedes might sneak through.
The good news is that they won’t last long because once their breeding migration is over, the invasion will be over.
Keep Mulch And Leaves Away
Wood mulch around your house could attract millipedes. They look for damp areas with wet wood, leaves, or other rotting plant matter, so the mulch bed looks like the perfect place for millipedes to settle down.
Keeping mulch beds and leaves away from the foundation might keep millipedes from getting into your house.
Another way to live with millipedes is to leave a place for them to feed and live. If you have the space on your property, leave an area where leaves can naturally decompose. Don’t spray any fertilizers or pesticides on this area and the millipedes will naturally go there.
Check out our article on the common things that attract millipedes to your home to see if you are inadvertently attracting them inside.
Will Millipedes Destroy My Beautiful Garden?
Millipedes prefer rotting, dead material more than they like a growing garden. Most often if you have something eating your garden, it is rabbits, deer, or another garden pest.
Millipedes will, on occasion, eat small seedlings if there’s nothing else to eat or there is a drought going on. If millipedes don’t have enough moisture from the ground, leaf cover, or a compost pile, they could eat some of your garden.
During these times, water your garden to keep everything healthy and growing well – this will discourage millipedes from eating your garden plants. Keeping a compost pile or leaf pile at the edge of your property will help keep millipedes out of your garden if that’s a concern.
You can read more about millipedes in gardens in our article about the reasons why millipedes are in your garden.
Wrapping Things Up
Millipedes get a bad rep because they’re creepy and crawly and give most people the heebie-jeebies. But rest assured, these hard-working arthropods are actually extremely beneficial to have around!
Here’s a recap of the 9 reasons millipedes aren’t so bad after all:
- They Break down leaf litter
- Millipedes help break down compost
- Their excrement is excellent fertilizer
- Millipede tunnels aerate the soil
- Millipedes provide food for beneficial bacteria and fungi
- Their presence indicates good soil health
- Millipedes do not damage homes or feed on structures
- They can be pets
- They provide food for predators like snakes, lizards, and opossums
We hope this gives you a new understanding of these many-legged arthropods. You don’t have to be frightened of them or try to eradicate them, as they are very good for the environment. Hopefully, we can all learn to live peacefully with the slow-moving, leaf recycling millipede.
Golovatch, Sergei I., and R. Desmond Kime. “Millipede (Diplopoda) distributions: A review.” Soil organisms 81.3 (2009): 565-565.
Hembree, Daniel I. “Neoichnology of burrowing millipedes: linking modern burrow morphology, organism behavior, and sediment properties to interpret continental ichnofossils.” Palaios 24.7 (2009): 425-439.
Shear, William A. “The chemical defenses of millipedes (Diplopoda): biochemistry, physiology and ecology.” Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 61 (2015): 78-117.
Ramanathan B., and Alagesan P. 2012. Evaluation of millicompost versus vermicompost. Current Science, Vol. 103, No. 2.
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