Millipedes (class Diplopoda) are often confused with centipedes due to their many legs and long, segmented bodies.  

Millipedes are primarily detritivores, feeding on decaying vegetation and debris. They play an important role in soil formation as their burrowing and breakdown of organic matter simultaneously aerates and enriches soil.

Millipedes prefer to live outdoors in areas of continuous high moisture. It is common to find millipedes in flower beds and under piles of decaying leaves, mulch, grass clippings, or other organic matter around a building’s exterior. They lay their eggs either in the soil or in deposits of decaying organic matter. Millipedes are also very common under sheds, or in crawl spaces. Like centipedes, they are usually only active at night.


What do Millipedes Look Like?

Millipedes have a subcylindrical shaped body, short antennae, and small heads, with adults ranging between 4mm and 30mm (1/8" & 1") in length. Their bodies are dark brown or black in colour, and when disturbed, they curl in on themselves exposing their hard exoskeleton, forming a protective ball. There are over 8,000 different species in the world, with certain species living up to 13 years of age. The presence of “diplosomites”, double trunk segments formed by the fusion of two segments, is a characteristic feature of the millipede.  Millipedes breathe through tiny holes called spiracles, which are spaced along the sides of their bodies. Excess heat travelling through these spiracles is dangerous, any could cause the millipede to dry out and die.


     A Millipede in Ontario

*Photo by Michael Hunter


Unlike centipedes, millipedes possess 2 pairs of legs for most of their segments. Although the name “millipede” suggests these arthropods have a thousand feet, their number of legs ranges from 22 (11 pairs) to 750 (375 pairs). The number of segments also varies, fluctuating between 11 to over 100 in certain species.  At birth, millipedes have 3-4 pairs of legs, which increases as they mature and molt. Their legs extend only slightly laterally, thus are only partly visible on the sides of their bodies. This position provides a solid foundation for the creature and elevates their bodies above whatever surface they occupy. Articulation of the legs occurs mid-ventrally with the body and supplies the pushing/burrowing power of the millipede. Unlike centipedes, millipedes are not designed for speed and are generally slow-moving arthropods adapted for burrowing.  


Do Millipedes Bite?

Millipedes lack the anatomical structures to bite, pinch, or sting, and pose no threat to humans. Certain species produce defensive secretions stemming from glands called “ozopores” that will produce a burning sensation if eye contact occurs. Fortunately, the species found in Canada are harmless.


How do Millipedes get into a Home or Business?

Millipedes often migrate in the fall, and may enter a home or business to survive winter months.  They may also migrate from their natural habitat if it becomes flooded.

Millipedes enter homes through cracks and crevices in doors, windows, foundations. They can be spotted on porches, decks, sides of building walls, looking for access points. Once inside they gravitate to damp areas of a building, like dark basements and crawl spaces. Millipedes will also inhabit boxed stored items.

Learn more about how to get rid of millipedes.

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