One look at all those little legs and you’ll want to know how to get rid of millipedes. Quick. Now. Immediately.
Sure, millipedes may not be dangerous but they are certainly disgusting and the last thing you want is for those little legs to go crawling all over the sacred domain of your home.
Don’t worry – here’s everything you need to know about these multi-legged creepy crawlies, including the most important: how to get rid of them and keep them out.
What are Millipedes?
A millipede is a very small unit of measurement used in European – no, wait, that’s a millimeter.
A millipede measures electrical current – no, hang on, that’s a milliamp.
A millipede is a kind of custard-based pastry – no, that’s not right either.
Actually, millipedes are bugs. And while they may not be the most annoying bugs out there (bed bugs, I’m looking at you) or the most dangerous (shame on you, mosquitoes!) millipedes can easily become a problem in your home.
So what exactly are these weird bugs, and what makes them tick? And more importantly, what do you need to know to make sure they stay far away from you? Glad you asked!
Millipedes are found throughout the world, with more than 1000 different species living in the US alone. These bugs are also extremely common, meaning your chances of running into them at one point or another are pretty high.
But don’t be afraid! While these squirmy creatures may look gross, they’re actually pretty harmless.
Millipedes get their name from the frankly unnecessary amount of legs they have.
Millipede means “thousand feet” in Latin. In real life, most millipedes don’t have anywhere near a thousand feet, although in 2020 a species was discovered that has over 1300 legs!
Still, most species you’re likely to encounter (unless you go digging deep underground in Australia where Eumillipes persephone lives) have between 30 and 90 pairs of legs.
What Do Millipedes Look Like?
Generally, millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment. Therefore, they can get quite long in order to accommodate all those legs. The length of a millipede varies by species, but they can be anywhere from 1/16 of an inch all the way up to 4 ½ inches long.
Because their bodies are long and thin, they can often look like worms, especially from above. Millipedes start off their lives with only seven body segments and three pairs of legs, but they continue to add new segments and new legs as they grow.
So the longer the millipede, the older it is. For insects, millipedes are also quite long-lived, with some species not reaching maturity until 4 to 5 years old and living for up to 10 years.
Usually, millipedes are black or brown in color. However, they can come in a range of colors including orange, red, and some cool-looking patterns, depending on what’s in fashion that season. But when it comes to identifying millipedes, the dead giveaway is the legs.
Do Millipedes Bite?
Luckily, millipedes don’t bite. Their jaws aren’t set up to deliver a bite, and even if they were, they’re generally too small to bother humans anyway. That means most species of millipede are completely harmless.
However, they can be a serious pest in gardens and greenhouses where they munch on emerging seedlings.
Also, some species emit a foul-smelling fluid when they feel threatened. In a few species, this fluid can cause small blisters on the skin of anyone who touches them.
These blisters can usually be treated by aloe vera or some other cream to reduce skin irritation, but it can still be annoying.
What Do Millipedes Eat?
If millipedes don’t bite people, what do they eat?
By human standards, the diet of a millipede is pretty gross. But millipedes form an important link in the food chain by feeding on decaying plant matter like rotten leaves and dead plants.
This helps break down organic matter and release nutrients into the food cycle, which is why millipedes have been walking the earth with their many legs for more than 400 million years.
Where Do Millipedes Live?
No one ever accused millipedes of being smart, but they know enough not to venture too far from a food source. Generally, you’ll find millipedes in areas with lots of decaying vegetation. Think underneath garbage and piles of grass clippings or fallen leaves.
Flower bed mulch and soil with high humidity is also a great habitat for these creatures. Start turning over rocks in your garden, and you’ll probably find more than a few millipedes underneath.
Millipedes have very high humidity requirements, so they tend to live in areas with lots of moisture. However, sometimes they will leave their normal habitat, often forced out by heavy rains, warm temperatures, or drought.
This often happens in the autumn as part of their natural hibernation cycle, but can also be a response to extreme weather conditions.
Can Millipedes Live In My Home?
The good news is that millipedes can’t live in your home. Well, not unless you live underground. The humidity millipedes need to survive and thrive is way above what you would find in any home that isn’t a cave.
That doesn’t mean they won’t come inside, though. Again, these are not bright animals.
Often, inhospitable weather outside will drive them inside. This happens especially in the fall as the weather cools and the millipedes come indoors for warmth.
The good news is, millipedes don’t survive for long inside. The lower humidity of a human home causes them to dry out and die in a couple of days.
Do Millipedes Lay Eggs In the House?
Human homes are far too dry for millipedes to survive for long. And they are an extremely inhospitable place for millipedes to lay their eggs.
While you may find these creatures coming indoors when the weather forces them inside, you won’t find a breeding population living inside your house unless you have extreme moisture problems.
And the humidity millipedes need is so high that if your house is as humid as the soil underneath decaying leaf litter outside where millipedes like to live, you have far bigger problems than these insects.
Centipedes vs Millipedes
Millipedes aren’t the only many-legged insects in the world. They are often confused with centipedes, another type of insect with multiple legs.
Centipedes take their name from the Latin for ‘hundred feet’, and as with the name of millipedes, it’s not entirely accurate. The most common species of centipede encountered by people, the common house centipede, only has 15 pairs of legs. However, some species of centipede can have more than 100 legs.
Like millipedes, centipedes have a body composed of many segments. However, centipedes have only one pair of legs per body segment, while millipedes have two.
More noticeably, centipedes’ legs stick out from the sides of their body, while millipede legs are underneath the body. That gives millipedes more of a wormlike appearance, while centipede legs are more noticeable.
The behavior of these two creatures is also quite different. Centipedes are predators, and use a venomous bite to take down and kill other insects. Although this bite isn’t harmful to humans, it does make them fierce predators of the insect world. And because they rely on catching other insects, centipedes move much faster than millipedes usually do.
Thanks to this speed and their noticeable legs, coming across a centipede can be quite alarming. Millipedes are much slower and more docile than their centipede cousins.
Why Are Millipedes In My House?
Millipedes usually come inside human houses to escape bad weather. This can include high water levels that force them out of their regular habitat or periods of drought that cause them to go looking for higher humidity somewhere else.
It commonly happens in fall as temperatures drop and the millipedes look for warmer areas.
Unless your house is full of rotting leaves, millipedes won’t find much to eat indoors, and the lower humidity will cause them to dry out and die in a matter of days.
For that reason, millipedes are best thought of as a minor nuisance, but they won’t cause any damage to your home or harm you and your family. And they won’t start living in your house rent-free, either.
How to Get Rid of Millipedes
When you want to get rid of millipedes, remember that true millipede control begins outdoors where these creatures generally live.
Reducing the population of millipedes outdoors makes it less likely that these bugs will find their way into your home during periods of bad weather.
So how do you do that?
When you want to control millipedes, think about moisture. The biggest weakness of these ancient creatures is their need for very high humidity, so reducing that humidity will make your property less attractive to them.
If you have a lawn, a good place to start is dethatching it. This will remove the top layer of grass that holds moisture above the soil surface, helping the lawn to dry out. Cutting the lawn short and edging it properly will also help to dry it out quicker, making the soil beneath less attractive for millipedes.
Remove Millipede Food
Another thing to do is remove leaf piles and mulch. Not only do these increase humidity, but they provide a food source for millipedes, allowing the population to grow. Clearing out any dead organic matter from your garden will make it much harder for millipedes to survive.
Piles of firewood can also hold a lot of moisture, so get them off the ground and away from the soil so that they can dry out properly. Also check any faucets or water features in your yard to make sure they are not leaking and saturating the soil with water, creating an ideal environment for millipedes to breed.
How to Prevent Millipedes from Entering the House
Once you reduce the millipede population outside, it’s time to think about stopping them from getting in.
Seal Up Entryways
Millipedes are very small, so they can squeeze through quite tiny gaps to get inside your home. Inspect your house thoroughly, looking for any cracks and crevices millipedes could use to get inside.
Pay special attention around doors and windows and anywhere that pipes or wires enter your home, such as gas and water meters or air conditioning returns. Seal up any gaps you find with silicone caulk to keep the millipedes out.
It’s a good idea to check underneath doors and windows, because often, there is a gap millipedes can use to get inside. Door guards can be an effective way to keep out not just millipedes but other pests that might otherwise come in underneath the door.
Use a Perimeter Spray
Because millipedes don’t survive for long indoors, it may not be necessary to treat with pesticides. However, if you are having a major invasion of millipedes, you may want to speed up their demise by using an appropriately labeled pesticide. In that case, it’s a good idea to start outside.
Millipedes are nocturnal, so you may want to consider inspecting your yard at night to see areas with high millipede activity. Pay special attention to areas with high humidity and decaying plant matter, such as leaf piles and garden mulch. Once you’ve identified where the millipedes are living and breathing, you can target them with a pesticide.
A good option to keep millipedes out of your home is to perform a perimeter treatment. A pesticide such as Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer can create a barrier that will kill any millipedes to try to cross it. Another excellent choice for a perimeter treatment is Temprid FX, though this requires special equipment to use properly.
A perimeter treatment is best performed at the end of summer or in early fall before the weather changes and the millipedes start to come inside.
Spray several feet out from the foundation of your home and at least one foot up the walls to make sure the millipedes are exposed to the pesticide. You can also use these pesticides to target areas whether millipedes are living, since it acts as a contact poison to kill them directly.
What Kills Millipedes?
If you’re not comfortable using pesticides against millipedes, you’re in luck. There are lots of ways to effectively deal with these bugs without using toxic chemicals. Here are a few ways to kill millipedes that work really well.
This naturally occurring substance comes in the form of a fine white powder. Rather than being a chemical pesticide, this powder is a physical control. Although it feels soft to the touch, on a microscopic level, it’s composed of shards of jagged glass-like shells.
These will scratch up the exoskeleton of any bug that comes into contact with the dust. And when the exoskeleton is pierced, bugs dehydrate and die.
Because of their high moisture requirements, millipedes are especially susceptible to this treatment method. Diatomaceous earth will help speed up the dehydration of the millipedes, and is safe to use both inside and outside your home.
Sometimes, the simple solutions are the best. If large numbers of millipedes are getting inside your home and you want instant results, consider getting the vacuum out.
Millipedes are quite slow moving and easy to suck up with a vacuum cleaner, and this will kill them almost immediately and get rid of the bodies at the same time.
Sure, you might have to do it several times as more millipedes come inside. But it’s a chemical free and very effective way of solving a millipede problem indoors.
Bleach can certainly kill millipedes, but you’ll need to be careful how you use it. This caustic chemical is also very harmful to plants and to beneficial microorganisms in the soil, so don’t go pouring it all over your garden unless you want to kill your plans and everything else that lives there.
However, you can use a solution of bleach and water in a spray bottle inside your house to kill millipedes on contact. This will speed up their inevitable doom from entering the lower humidity of your house, meaning you may be able to stop them at the door as they come in.
Glue boards and other sticky traps are a great way to prevent millipedes and get inside your home without relying on chemicals. You can use glue boards designed for mice, but even a row of double-sided tape will do the trick.
Place the traps in front of doors, windows, and anywhere else millipedes may get inside. The millipedes will get stuck on the traps and won’t be able to get any further into your home, making them easy to remove.
On the downside, this isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing to have in your home. Then again, nor are millipedes.
Home Remedies for Millipedes that Don’t Work
You are always going to find a million and one home remedies for various types of pests. The Internet is littered with them. Unfortunately, many of them don’t work.
Here are the two main ones that come up again and again when it comes to millipedes and why you’ll want to skip them.
You’ll find articles online touting baking soda as a way to kill millipedes. However, this isn’t true. Unlike diatomaceous earth, baking soda won’t do anything to damage the exoskeletons of the millipedes and cause them to dry out.
Millipedes will walk right through it on their way into your home, and all you will do is give yourself one more thing to clean up afterward.
When you’re trying to stop millipedes getting into your home, it’s tempting to look for anything that promises to provide a repellent effect. You’ll find lots of people who claim essential oils create a smell that will drive millipedes away.
However, there is no scientific basis for these claims.
Millipedes do use smell to find food sources and one another. But there’s no proof that any particular essential oil will help keep them out of your home. Instead of spending your money on essential oils, you’d be better off investing it in something that actually works like diatomaceous earth, sticky traps, or a good vacuum.
The Final Word on Millipedes
If you have to have bugs, millipedes aren’t the worst ones to have. They don’t bite like bed bugs and mosquitoes do, and won’t damage the home the way certain species of ant can.
Also, unlike bugs like cockroaches, millipedes don’t contaminate human food, and having them in your home doesn’t make you a bad housekeeper. In fact, some people even find millipedes kind of cute, and larger species are sometimes kept as pets!
That doesn’t mean you have to live with them, though. There are lots of things you can do to keep them out. As always with pest control, prevention is key, and reducing humidity outside your home will help to reduce the population of millipedes so that few of them find their way inside.
Then, you can also block up gaps in the structure of your home to keep not only millipedes but other bugs outside. Finally, there is a range of different pesticide treatments you can employ to kill millipedes both inside and outside the home.
Hopefully you found this article helpful and have a better idea of how to control a millipede problem. The next time you hear the tiny footsteps of thousands of legs creeping into your home, you’ll know exactly what to do.