For all but the hottest, driest months in Ellis County our homes seem to be invaded by millipedes. In the garden millipedes are found beneath piles of damp leaves or wood where they are actively recycling organic matter back into the soil. What are they doing in our houses?
Millipedes are invertebrates, but they are not insects. Their name means “A thousand feet,” which refers to the two pairs of legs present on each segment of their cylindrical bodies. They are brown, one to two inches long and can live for up to five years. It is their proclivity to migrate particularly during cool, damp weather that brings millipedes indoors. Unfortunately for them, our homes are too dry and lack food sources, so they die within a day or two and remain as brittle spirals.
Whether indoors or out, if you handle or crush a millipede it will excrete a yellow liquid which can be a skin irritant to some and will also stain carpets or floors. Therefore, it is advisable to handle them with gloves or a paper towel and to wash hands thoroughly after contact.
The best defense against millipedes is to remove piles of leaves, wood or decaying vegetation in the vicinity of the house. Secondly, the homeowner should seal cracks in the foundation and gaps at the base of windows and doors to physically prevent entry. Pesticide application is a temporary control at best since millipedes can migrate fifty feet or more and will quickly die indoors on their own. In the garden they are beneficial recyclers and very rarely damage living plants.
Maureen Nitkowski is an Ellis County Master Gardener and guest columnist in the Daily Light. For further information, contact the Ellis County Master Gardeners at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie, or call 972-825-5175 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.