Millipedes: Many Legs, Many Facts!

Have you seen a millipede before? They might seem a little creepy with all their legs, but they have some really interesting traits. From their many legs to their special defense methods, millipedes are truly amazing creatures.

In this article, we’ll explore some cool facts about millipedes and delve into their world. So, get your magnifying glass and let’s uncover the fascinating world of millipedes!

Etymology and Names

The word “millipede” comes from the Latin words “mille” meaning thousand, and “ped” meaning foot. This refers to their many legs, even though the actual number varies by species. Millipedes have been named differently in various cultures and languages.

For example, in some regions, they are called “thousand-leggers” due to their perceived abundance of legs. Despite their name, millipedes do not have a thousand legs. Their names reflect their segmented bodies and multiple legs. Different characteristics and behaviors influence their names in different languages, reflecting their appearance and habits. Millipedes’ names shed light on the rich history and cultural diversity of these creatures.

Classification and Living Groups

Millipedes are a type of arthropod in the group Diplopoda. They have long bodies and lots of legs, with two pairs on most segments. Unlike centipedes, they move slowly and don’t hunt prey. Instead, they are attracted to homes and gardens to find moisture and organic matter.

Reducing moisture, sealing entry points, and keeping the area clean can help control millipedes in human habitats. Insecticides, both chemical and non-chemical, can also be used to manage millipede infestations.

Evolution and the Fossil Record

Fossils show how organisms have changed over time.

For example, the extensive fossil record of millipedes demonstrates their evolution from simple sea-dwelling creatures to the many-legged arthropods we see today. The discovery of transitional fossils like Pneumodesmus newmani, with both gills and lung-like structures, further supports the idea of evolutionary change over time. The study of the fossil record helps us understand how different species have adapted and changed in response to environmental shifts and other factors. Scientists use fossils to piece together a timeline of life’s development and diversification on our planet.

Distinctive Features of Millipedes

Distinction from Centipedes

Millipedes and centipedes have different physical characteristics and body structures.

Millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment, giving them a rounded appearance. Centipedes, on the other hand, have only one pair of legs per segment and a flatter body shape.

Millipedes prefer moist, dark environments and feed on decaying plant material, while centipedes are commonly found in soil, under stones, or in rotting wood, and they are carnivorous.

When threatened, millipedes release toxic chemicals, while centipedes can deliver venomous bites.

These differences have implications for control and management in human habitats because strategies for dealing with millipedes may differ from those for centipedes due to their varying behavior and potential impact on human health.

Characteristics: Head, Body, and Internal Organs

Millipedes have a cylindrical body with many segments. They have antennae, a mouth, and eyes on their head, but it is not as complex as other arthropods. Inside, they have a simple heart, digestive system, and reproductive organs in each body segment.

They can release defensive toxins through pores in the body, which helps them survive and act as decomposers in the ecosystem. This adaptation also aids in their reproductive success.

Even though their head and internal organs are relatively simple, millipedes have evolved unique characteristics that are crucial for their survival and their role in the environment.

Growth and Reproduction

Millipedes grow and reproduce through molting. They shed their exoskeleton as they grow, and develop a new one to increase in size. This shedding is also important in reproduction. Male millipedes deposit sperm packets on the ground, which females pick up with their gonopods to fertilize their eggs.

One key characteristic is their ability to produce a large number of offspring. The millipede life cycle starts with an egg stage, followed by a series of molts. Growth and reproduction go hand in hand, as molting helps the millipedes reach sexual maturity and mate to continue their life cycle.

Millipede Ecology

Habitat and Distribution

Millipedes are adaptable creatures. They can live in forests, grasslands, and deserts. Different species are found in tropical or temperate areas.

These creatures can burrow underground to handle extreme temperatures or moisture. They’re essential for recycling organic matter, like leaves and wood, into soil.

However, human activity like deforestation and pollution negatively impacts their habitats. This affects their ability to survive. It’s important to think about how this impacts millipedes in different regions.

Burrowing and Diet

Millipedes burrow to avoid harsh conditions and find food. They burrow through soil, leaf litter, and rotting wood for shelter and food. They eat decaying plant matter, algae, and fungi, helping decompose organic matter and recycle nutrients. This maintains the ecosystem’s health and balance. Their burrowing regulates soil moisture and provides aeration, benefiting plant growth. These adaptations help millipedes thrive in various ecosystems, from forests to grasslands.

Predators, Parasites, and Defence Mechanisms

Millipedes have different ways to defend against predators and parasites. They release toxic chemicals, curl into a tight spiral, and produce irritating secretions. These tactics help keep predators and parasites away by making millipedes unappetizing or harmful.

Predators and parasites have a big impact on millipedes’ behavior and ecology. For example, the presence of birds, reptiles, and other invertebrates can affect when millipedes are active, making them more active at night to avoid predators. Also, the risk of parasitism can cause millipedes to evolve defensive strategies, like producing antimicrobial secretions to prevent infection.

The interactions between millipedes, predators, and parasites have influenced the evolution of defense mechanisms and the ecology of these fascinating creatures.

Millipedes and Humans

Interactions with Humans

Millipedes are important in ecosystems. They break down organic matter and enrich the soil. Sometimes, they can be pests in homes and gardens. To control them, people can seal cracks, reduce moisture, and take preventive measures.

In different cultures, millipedes have symbolic meanings. In some parts of Asia, they are used in herbal remedies because they are believed to have medicinal properties. In African cultures, they are seen as omens or symbols of luck.

These perspectives show the unique interactions between millipedes and humans worldwide.

Controlling Millipedes in Human Habitats

To control millipedes in your home, focus on reducing moisture and sealing entry points for these pests. Fix leaky pipes, seal cracks, and ensure good ventilation. Keep the area around your house free of leaves and wood piles to make it less attractive to millipedes. Install weather stripping around doors and windows to keep them out. Although millipedes aren’t harmful, they can release irritating fluids that may cause skin irritation.

Wear gloves when handling them and clean any affected areaspromptly with soap and water.


Millipedes have a lot of legs, ranging from 30 to 400. They are not insects, but belong to the class Diplopoda. They eat decomposing organic matter and help with nutrient cycling.

Their body is cylindrical with two pairs of legs per segment, and they release toxic chemicals to defend themselves. Some species glow in the dark, while others can make sounds.

Millipedes live in forests, caves, and deserts.


What is the average number of legs on a millipede?

The average number of legs on a millipede is around 200, with some species having up to 750 legs.

Do millipedes have any predators?

Yes, millipedes have predators such as birds, toads, lizards, small mammals, and certain insects.

Are millipedes venomous or dangerous to humans?

No, most millipedes are not venomous or dangerous to humans. However, some species can produce irritating fluids that may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. If you come in contact with a millipede, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

What do millipedes eat?

Millipedes eat decaying plant material, such as leaves and wood. They also consume fungi and occasionally dead animals.

How do millipedes defend themselves from predators?

Millipedes defend themselves from predators by secreting toxic substances from glands along their body. This can irritate or repel predators. Some species also curl into a tight spiral to protect their vulnerable underside.