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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis


Posted by John Fulton -

The last week has found the lowly millipede taking homes by storm. If millipedes were insects, they would deserve insect of the week honors. Since they are not insects, we'll just dub them "pest of the week."

What are millipedes? They belong to the arthropod class Diplododa, which means double footed. The reason is simple: they have two legs per body segment. There are many different types of millipedes, over 1000 actually. They prefer to live in moist places, such as under mulch, in flower beds, in good quality lawns, and under wood. They feed on decaying organic matter, and occasionally on tender leaves or roots.

Millipedes lay eggs in the soil in spring and summer months, and usually overwinter as the adults that we are seeing now. The big problem with millipedes is that they migrate. Right now they may be migrating through your living room. Nobody knows for sure why they migrate, but the best guesses involve searching for food sources and seeking moisture.

Unlike centipedes, millipedes don't bite or sting. They do give off a bad odor when disturbed or smashed. Be careful crushing them on carpeting, as they can cause a stain. If you're not sure whether you have millipedes or centipedes, here are some differences: centipedes have on leg per body segment while millipedes have two, centipedes normally have much longer legs than millipedes, and centipedes move rapidly while millipedes move slowly.

Now that we know a little about millipedes, How do we get rid of them? Well, there isn't a simple answer (or I'd be rich), but an integrated program gives the best results. A program that uses both chemical and non-chemical methods is usually most effective.

Non-chemical controls aim at removing the moist resting places. Dethatch your lawn to reduce that damp thatch layer just above the soil surface, closely mow and edge the lawn to allow it to dry quickly, remove debris that provides hiding places, pull mulch away from the house, water grass in the early morning, and keep leaves from piling up along the foundation. That's one of the reasons we tend to have so many millipedes this time of year. The crumbling leaf material is an ideal cover and food source for millipedes. Use of glue boards for mice will also catch an amazing number of millipedes.

If millipedes get inside the house, the vacuum cleaner is probably the best control. It is non-chemical and prevents stains from smashed millipedes. Other controls in the home include the sticky boards, aerosol sprays that are used for flying insects (check the active ingredient as some contain permethrin which will last several weeks), and baseboard spays used for ants.

Outside the house, start with a foundation spray of something such as propoxur, bifenthrin, permethrin, or Sevin. Spray the foundation and the adjacent foot or so of soil and plants or lawn. Make sure you treat doorways and other openings as well. Since millipedes aren't insects to begin with, don't expect a complete wipe-out with a chemical spray program.

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