The garbage men of Earth’s eco-systems.

Millipedes are a group of arthropods[1] that are characterized by having two pairs of jointed legs on most body segments; they are known scientifically as the class Diplopoda, the name derived from this feature.

Each double-legged segment is a result of two single segments fused together. Most millipedes have very elongated cylindrical or flattened bodies with more than 20 segments, while pill millipedes are shorter and can roll into a ball. The name “millipede” derives from the Latin for “thousand feet”.

Millipedes are cylindrical or slightly flattened invertebrates. They’re not insects—they’re actually more closely related to lobsters, shrimp, and crayfish. The word “millipede” translates to “a thousand feet”—but while millipedes have many feet, none of them quite have a thousand.


 A new record-setting species of millipede with 1,306 legs, Eumillipes persephone, from Western Australia has been found. This diminutive animal (0.037 inches wide, 3.77 inches long) and has 330 segments, a cone-shaped head with enormous antennae, and a beak for feeding. Discovered 200 feet below ground in a drill hole created for mineral exploration.

There are 7,000 species of millipede in the world, and 1,400 of these occur in the United States and Canada. The smaller ones are less than an inch in length, but the common spirobolid millipede can grow to more than five inches.

Until August 2020 the most legs ever found had been 750. Most millipedes are slow-moving detritivores, eating decaying leaves and other dead plant matter. Some eat fungi or drink plant fluids, and a small minority are predatory.

What does a Millipede look like?

• Primarily blackish or brownish, some red,
orange, or with molted patterns
• Between 1/16” and 4-1/2” in length
• Antennae
• Long and cylindrical, worm-like

Millipedes are generally harmless to humans, although some can become household or garden pests. Millipedes can be unwanted, especially in greenhouses where they can cause severe damage to emergent seedlings.

Most millipedes defend themselves with a variety of chemicals secreted from pores along the body, although the tiny bristle millipedes are covered with tufts of detachable bristles.

Where do Millipedes live?

• Typically found in areas of high moisture and decaying vegetation
• Areas such as under trash, piles of grass clippings,
flower-bed mulches, or piles of leaves
• They typically do not live long indoors,
unless the moisture level is high, and food is readily available

Its primary defense mechanism is to curl into a tight coil, thereby protecting its legs and other vital delicate areas on the body behind a hard exoskeleton. Reproduction in most species is carried out by modified male legs called gonopods, which transfer packets of sperm to females. The good news is that millipedes are harmless. They’re arthropods, not insects, and are considered a beneficial organism, not a plant pest.

The bad news is that millipedes can become an indoor nuisance, climbing up walls willy-nilly and just being plain ugly to look at (don’t worry; they don’t bite and they don’t breed indoors). Plus, when they die (they dehydrate within a day or two), you’ve got all those curled-up bodies to sweep out so they can decompose.

Are Millipedes dangerous?

• Some species give off a bad-smelling fluid through
openings along the side of the body
• This fluid can be toxic to small animals, including pets.
• This fluid can also cause skin blisters on humans

So what is the difference between Millipedes and Centipedes? Centipedes are elongated segmented (metameric) creatures with one pair of legs per body segment. All centipedes are venomous and can inflict painful bites, injecting their venom through pincer-like appendages known as forcipules. Despite the name, centipedes can have a varying number of legs, ranging from 30 to 382. Centipedes always have an odd number of pairs of legs; no centipede has exactly 100 legs. Like spiders and scorpions, centipedes are predominantly carnivorous.

  1. Arthropods, (arthron) ‘joint’, and (pous) ‘foot’ are invertebrate animals having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and paired jointed appendages. Arthropods form the phylum Arthropoda. They are distinguished by their jointed limbs and cuticle made of chitin, often mineralized with calcium carbonate. The arthropod body plan consists of segments, each with a pair of appendages. Arthropods are bilaterally symmetrical and their body possesses an external skeleton. In order to keep growing, they must go through stages of molting, a process by which they shed their exoskeleton to reveal a new one. Some species have wings. They are an extremely diverse group, with up to 10 million species. [Back]

Further Reading


Scientific Reports
The National Wildlife Federation
DKS Pest Control

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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