Millipedes

A thousand legs has a millipede
While a hundred does the centipede
The millipede eats plants
The centipede eats ants
I wonder if any get knock-kneed?


My little limerick about millipedes and centipedes doesn't begin to cover the differences between centipedes and millipedes, but it does point help to point out a key difference between the two (other than the number of legs)- the centipede is a carnivore that primarily eats insects and spiders- while the millipede usually consumes plants or rotting wood and leaves. Oh- and centipedes bite- some even have poison glands. Millipedes on the whole- do not bite- but they aren't defenseless, as you will soon discover.

This pretty yellow and black millipede shown in the photo above was identified for me by perhaps one of the top millipede experts (if not the foremost expert) in the United States- Dr. Rowland Shelley. I had posted this photo on bugguide.net and he was kind enough to review and comment on the photo: "These 3 photos are of an unusual, yellow banded form of Apheloria virginiensis (Drury, 1770) (Polydesmida: Xystodesmidae). I'm aware of the form's existence, but I would not expect this color variant way down in Alabama, at the southern extremity of the generic range. A.v. corrugata, in Kentucky, exhibits this very color pattern, but it has not been collected in central Tennessee, where it would be expected if this were corrugata here in Alabama. So, this form is under study and it may be a new species or new subspecies of A. virginiensis. Rowland Shelley." (source) That would be very exciting to know that we have discovered a "new" species right here literally in our own backyard! Of course, we really wouldn't be the "discoverer"- that honor goes to whomever is willing to go work through the ardurous task of describing the new species.

Another interesting note about these types of millipedes is that they possibly excrete the toxin cynide through their "skin." While handling the above millipede, I did notice a white liquid being expelled from the "skin" of the millipede. Who knew? An interesting abstract regarding this phenomenom is located on the ScienceDirect website. The paper title is Cynogenesis in Plants and Athropods.

This red and black centipede appears to be a type of Sigmoria millipede. (source) It, along with the yellow and black millipede shown earlier, are known as "flat back millipedes." Each belong to the Polydesmida family. Members of the Polydesmida family can be identified by the fact that their bodies have 18 to 22 body rings- with 20 body rings being the most common. (source)


This brownish millipede appears to be a member of the Parajulidae family of millipedes. These millipedes look remarkably like earthworms. The one photographed above even flailed around like an earthworm after I caught it. These millipedes are infamous for crawling into houses- typically basements. They have a very unpleasant odor and usually aren't welcome guests.


This semi-lovely black millipede with the red racing stripes is scientifically known as the Narceus americanus. Its common name is the North American Millipede. This millipede is noteworthy in that it is the largest of all the millipedes in North America. It can grow to a length of 10cm- which makes it twice as large as any other millipede in North America. (source)

All of the millipedes pictured here were found in my back yard. There are at least 2 other species that we caught that I haven't been able to get a good photograph of yet. So, why do we need so many millipedes? Consider this quote and decide for yourself:

Throughout Northwest forests, the principal shredder is the cyanide-producing millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana), which has a shining black body and bright orange racing stripes. Since the millipede crushes, filters and then recrushes its dead leaf diet, it increases the availability of nutrients 40,000-fold. After extracting what it needs, the millipede defecates a pellet of partially used nutrients covered with microbial fuel (intestinal mucus). Immediately, a microbial garden grows on the surface and then a soil fungivore comes along and breaks up the pellet, feeds, excretes with its own mucus, and the whole process repeats over and over again until all the nutrients are used up. It is the shredder that is key to the process. The cyanide-producing millipede alone eats 33 to 50 percent of all the dead coniferous and deciduous leaves that come to rest on the forest floor. It is one of the most critical links in the entire soil foodweb. From the article: Small in Size, but Great in Importance by Andrew Moldenke.

Comparison of two millipedes from Polydesmida family of millipedes.

Dr. Rowland Shelley wrote an excellent guide to millipedes and centipedes that can be found online at http://www.emporia.edu/ksn/v45n3-march1999/index.html This is part of an great series of online and printed guides that the Kansas School Naturalist produces. The catalog of their articles is at http://www.emporia.edu/ksn/.

25 comments:

aristide said...

notevole

Eve said...

Wow Daniel nice work!! Now if I find any of these guys I'll toss them into my compost pile!!!
;-)
Love the new look!

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

I'm with Eve! I have an entirely new respect for millipedes now thanks to you.

Anonymous said...

just this morning i found what looks to be the same kinda millipede that is in your pic! He is like the black and red or orange one. I live in southeast TN,and thanks to the info I know what i found!

Anonymous said...

This morning I found one of the same millipedes in your pic! The red/orange and black one,and i am from southeast TN. Thanks to the info I know what he is.

Norma said...

I just found one of the yellow and black ones in NC. I took a pic and thanks for information.

Anonymous said...

We just found about a million of the black and yellow millipedes were we have been heaping grass clippings. We are in Udall, Kansas.

nadz said...

hi,
so many in my place..the one with black n yellow..in malaysia
kindly check my blog.

http://busanahati.blogspot.com/2010/08/ulat-pula.html?showComment=1282348801476_AIe9_BEj5Vi6DB3pfYFi7pC9r4in9UQb4_6gZbHkxVS3OJiao47Cv1_sUaOWrl8rF0MKiF9VekrNFZLYa00q1JLavd4Kh7OoAaAOtl-f35TTXeG9rJNrRZlsqPtF6-cbmMmKmD7VasycXWt8Faw0qQYW3ezKOzUzvnHaRmpCWk21P2VzRg7Oz5jJ-FhXodTY1YrskxqWBAN9ysE57ANrYezeO85OzksapMUZdPZNF4PVzxErZokENe9ifwdQGG0b5TbZwXhauR0T--8VnH8JCA7_yM8sj1obec-I-MThU7gwQ49ywLiDVjAqjrYOM5yzEBGHw784Ajwjylh6YV8jBHv-AiC_ZTb8F7IwSxTmcAewZ4EtJpMr7j-0IIDi9wY4QDkNG76d3dMEArk3iPKmrg5XNhX4alRDVjB3dQvVo8UzI-VlhYNOzydovarI9Tfxi0AmAesNwcZEuHMK0UiFZY5d2aX51ndO7p9uvpqRO3uhISi0h9qi3lODfR6NN2aaLpeNTbX6uiTOChrjlkxU3xC9sb69xgGlszffdaapr0yl8X_t8Byf0M4rc2OrhfoysePHaREPdm9v_Uje72vS5RnYC1Z_-nQ0OQ6_IJnzwWT6B3SlwnHGzbpthrn7Vh2xi6ykat-2Zk-V1xoVYaFU3b9EGoMNofMBiIYZzlvVEwosFXLOEoTEpeZ2x6j--kvEznxbF72mDq4IYtNN-yHQdT-WJI0ZIp1rXg#c4685170394193627725

Anonymous said...

Those little black and yellow striped millipedes are all over my yard down by the trash cans. I live in NE Oklahoma.

Anonymous said...

i came home and i seen something going across my drive way and there it was this yellow and black thing being followed by a frog and i just happened to look it up and here it was i live in clarksville, tn and this is the first time i ever seen one

BWest said...

Found one just this past weekend in Eastern PA. I got a picture and went looking online and stumbled across your site. Thanks!

Allie said...

I live south of Nashville in Middle Tennessee and I have seen the red/orange and black ones and the yellow and black ones. I found them first when I was looking in my inherited garden box. I have been waiting to plant until I figured out what they were. Thanks so much!

julie said...

I found (2) of the "Harpaphe haydeniana" cleaningleaves out of one of my gardens yesterday in Slanesville, WV. I guess I disturbed their work. Thanks for the info.

Kayla said...

I found one of the yellow ones in my bed and stated freaking out. I was so scared to go to bed but i woke up alive so i guess im okay... still dont like centipedes

Heuky said...

This week while cleaning out our mulched beds I found three of them! Very impressive creatures! I live in Central New York near the Finger Lakes region.

Anonymous said...

Several in the chapil hill north carolina area. Lots of leaves on the ground for them.

Tabol Parker said...

I'm from the country, only lived in the city (Fay., NC) for about 7 months now, and I've seen creatures I've never encountered b/f!

I'm not really 'scared' of bugs and the like, except roaches and waterbugs-for some reason I have a phobia of them. I kindly and with caution catch creepy crawlies and put them outside, where hopefully they'll stay. All the students knew who to get when creepy crawlies invaded classrooms! But with all the unknowns here, I'm actually fearful of going out at night!

Wolf spiders, nbd, abundance in the country, always out at night hunting, ugly and scary looking, fast and shy...but here two nights ago a huge ass female racing toward me, looking all weird. Being the curious person I am...gotta have answers, I've taken pics, looked up and taken notes to learn what else is living in my yard lol In doing this I discovered what made the wolf spider so freaky looking...spiderlings! Amazing but got the creepy crawlies nonetheless.

Among what I've found, here in the CITY only: wolf spiders various stages from egg sacks to dead, diff species of orb weavers-house spiders, jeweled, jumping, cribellate orb, basilica orb, labyrinth, 'daddy longlegs' tho NOT a spider, cicadas-larvae, various nymph stages molted skin and I hear them every night but only SEEN dead adults, beetles-burdock, bess beetle, fake bombardier, flea beetles, shining leaf, grapevine beetle, lightning bug beetle, ladybugs (yes, they're beetles) their larvae, pill bugs (crustaceans!), billbug weevile, slugs and spit looking whatever! Snails, worms-not the kind I remember growing up! Centipedes/millepedes, huge black ants, small ants and variations of their colonies, earwigs with their 'eggs', skinks, lizards, larvae unknown, neon grasshoppers, and yet unidentified critters! I have taken several pictures to help identify my critter tenants!

Stephanie Howard said...

I found the same yellow and black combo in Ashville, Al. Thanks for helping me ID it. And since I picked it up with my bare hands to remove it from my garage, thanks for giving me a scare with the whole cyanide thing. Since I'm still alive I'm assuming it's not a lethal dose.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I asked several garden centers and noone seemed to know what these were. They have multiplied like crazy over the last 2 years. We live in the woods and mulch our flower beds. Every time it rains they come out. Otherwise they seem to be right under the mulch. Now I am finding them in our woods. I wonder what has made them multiply so fast?? we live in central Pennsylvania.

Kimberly Gledhill said...

I found a Sigmoria Trimaculata in Arkona Ontario. It was in a beautiful Carolinian Forest with oak maple ash tulip hickory walnut trees to name a few. Kim Gledhill

Natures Way
"Where Experience is the Teacher'

Anonymous said...

I just found the black and orange variety on my sidewalk...Northern VA, near Washington, DC.

Anonymous said...

The Philippine black and yellow striped millipedes (with red legs) are suddenly popping up all over my area in Southern Florida. They are all no longer than 2 inches and I've decided to keep one :)

Anonymous said...

They are all over Gaston County N.C. and they put off a weird smell too

Anonymous said...

Well, like all the others, we just found a red and black millipede just like the one in your pictures. We were cleaning up some left over leaves from the fall/winter. I've never seen one like this before and have spent a lot of time outdoors. I knew it was a millipede but just wanted to know what kind. We live in Alabama. Thanks for your post.

shelly sangrey said...

My son just found a yellow and black one at my mother's house today. We live in eastern PA.