The other day I as was walking down my hall during the middle of the day, I saw a strange creature crawling across the hall. What was a millipede doing in my house? The creature had to climb nine steps and come through the kitchen and a few doors to get to my hall.
Being the curious type, I looked up millipedes online. I discovered that finding them in your house is not as strange as it seems. They come indoors in various ways, including hitchhiking in the soil of some plants. My large frost-sensitive plants had been moved into the house a few weeks before.
So, I gave this creature too much credit in thinking that it might have climbed the stairs. However, it did climb one stair and got through a doorway that is usually closed.
So, what exactly is this many-legged creature? Millipedes are not insects but rather a relative of the lobster and the sow bug. I have seen them in my worm bins, but there are many creatures in there, so I just left the millipedes alone. But in the house?
I had always thought that millipedes and centipedes were the same, but my research revealed that they are distant cousins from different species. Millipedes are sometimes called thousand-leg bugs, but they do not have that many. They have four legs on each segment of their body, and the legs emerge from underneath the body. As they add new segments, they add more legs.
Millipedes like to eat rotting material, such as kitchen garbage. During the winter, the females lay a clutch of eggs that hatch after a few weeks and then mature over two to five years. They can live years beyond that.
Centipedes have one leg per segment, and the legs emerge from the side of their body. They are carnivores, feasting on small insects. They also produce a poison they can inject. This toxin does not harm humans, but it kills small bugs.
The centipede breeds and lays eggs during the summer. The female sometimes stays with the eggs and keeps them clean of fungus spores and sometimes even lays with them to protect them. Usually, there are around 35 eggs in a nest, but some species also give birth to live young.
Another difference: Millipedes will curl up if disturbed, but centipedes use their many legs to run away.
In short, both millipedes and centipedes are beneficial in the garden. Resist the urge to step on them. If they have moved into your home or into a space where you would rather they not be, move them outside. Then look to see if you have moisture in your home where they might like to breed and set up their own home. If you have damp areas, find out where the moisture is coming from, seal doors and windows, and remove debris from around your home.
I was surprised to find millipedes for sale online and at high prices. I must have a fortune in my worm bins. People buy them as food for reptiles, but some apparently keep them as pets. Millipedes are found all over the world in various shapes and forms. Some grow to several inches long.
And what did I do with the one crawling down the hall? I put him into a worm bin, so now he is a working millipede.
Workshop: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County for a workshop on “Garden - Garden Ergonomics: Using the Right Tool the Right Way” on Saturday, January 28, from 10 am to noon, at Las Flores Community Center,4300 Linda Vista Avenue, Napa. Learn proper body mechanics and how to avoid common gardening habits or activities that are risk factors for injury.
Library Talk: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County and Napa County Library for a free talk on “Love Your Rose Garden” on Thursday, February 2, from 7 pm to 8 pm via Zoom. Learn more about finding the right rose for your garden, planting roses, and basic care. Register at https://ucanr.edu/2023FebRosesLibraryTalk
Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address, phone number, and a brief description of the problem. For best results, attach a photo of the plant. You may also leave a voicemail message with the same information at 707-253-4143.