Millipedes are long,
multi-segmented arthropods that resemble centipedes,
but centipedes have only 1 pair of legs on each segment, while millipedes
have 2 legs on most segments. Millipedes also lack the venomous
front legs of centipedes. Millipedes also resemble insects,
but insects always have only 3 body segments and 6 legs. Millipedes
have one pair of antennae and chewing mouthparts.
Body length up to about 4" (10 cm) for Kentucky millipedes
Millipedes have incomplete
metamorphosis: young millipedes hatch from eggs and resemble small
versions of adult millipedes. Millipedes shed their skin (called
"molting") as they grow, usually adding legs each time
Millipedes are common
in soil, under rocks, and in other dark, moist places. Millipedes
cannot move very fast, and most species feed on decaying plant material.
Millipedes do not have venomous stingers or fangs, but some
of them can secrete bad-smelling and bad-tasting chemicals from
pores in the sides of their bodies. These chemicals help keep
many predators away. Despite this defense, millipedes are
often eaten by centipedes, spiders, and predatory insects.
Millipedes are often seen
in homes, but they are not dangerous to people or animals and do not
damage human possessions.
For more information about
pest millipedes, read our ENTfact: Millipedes.
millipedes are cylindrical in shape and very slow-moving. They
are common in a variety of habitats, including gardens and forests
or any place with shade and moist soil.
North American Millipede (B. Newton, 2002)
A 4" Spirobolid
millipede is common in the forests of Eastern Kentucky. It is
black with purple and red markings, and is sometimes called the "North
American Millipede," Narceus americanus. It
is the largest millipede in Kentucky. Hikers in the Red River
Gorge and surrounding areas often see this impressive creature.
The North American millipede is also sometimes called the "pink millipede" and the "eastern red-ribbed millipede." The
one pictured was photographed in the Laurel River Lake
region of Kentucky.
Shown below is a newly molted North American Millipede.
millipedes are cylindrical, but millipedes in the order Polydesmida
are flattened. Common species are black with yellow or orange
markings. The 3 species pictured below are found in Eastern
Kentucky forests. Millipedes like the one pictured below right
are sometimes called "flat-backed millipedes."
Millipede (B. Newton, 2002)
Millipede (B. Newton, 2005)
Millipede (R. Bessin, 2002)
Millipedes are found
underneath logs, rocks, or mats of dead leaves. They are best preserved
in alcohol. Be careful when you pick one up: they can secrete
a fluid that will stain your hands and clothes.
Millipedes move slowly,
and it is usually easy to get a good picture. Be patient when
photographing millipedes, though. When a millipede is first
"discovered" underneath a rock or a log, it will usually
curl up in a ball. If you want a picture of an uncurled millipede,
just wait for a minute or two, and the millipede will begin moving.
in Kentucky are small, some tropical species can grow to a foot
Millipedes and centipedes
are believed to be more closely related to insects than to spiders
and other arachnids.
- LEGENDS - FOLKLORE
It is often said that
millipedes have "1000 legs," especially since the word
"millipede" means "1000 feet." But most
millipedes have only a few hundred legs, or even less than that.
The largest millipedes have about 750 legs.
In the old days, it was
believed that if you allowed a millipede to "count your teeth,"
you would die soon after. So never grin at a millipede!
Original document: 25 May 2004
Last updated: 27 Jan 2012
The Kentucky Critter
Files are maintained by Blake Newton, Department of Entomology, University