Earlier this week I received calls about worms inside the house or apartment. Each caller made it clear that they kept a clean home. One lady wondered if they were coming in through the drain. One of the callers brought me a bag full of these worms while another caller sent me a picture via text while we were on the phone. My response to them both was, “Oh, those are millipedes.”
Millipedes are often called 1,000-legged worms or rain worms. They are wormlike, with rounded body segments that each bear two pairs of legs. The head is rounded with short antennae. Species can vary in length from less than 1 to 2 or more inches. They are typically light brown to black.
Millipedes can climb walls easily and will often enter homes through foundation cracks above ground level. Millipedes are not poisonous, but many species have glands capable of producing irritating fluids that may cause allergic reactions in some individuals. The defensive sprays of some millipedes contain hydrochloric acid that can chemically burn the skin and cause long-term skin discoloration. The fluid can also be dangerous to the eyes. It is not advisable to handle millipedes with your bare hands. Persons handling millipedes may also notice a lingering odor on their hands. After contact with millipedes, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water until the odor is gone. Ether or alcohol will also help remove the noxious fluid.
Millipedes and centipedes are not insects. They are actually more closely related to lobsters, crayfish and shrimp. However, unlike their marine cousins, millipedes and centipedes are land dwellers. They are most often found in moist habitats or areas with high humidity.
Millipedes and centipedes do not carry diseases that affect people, animals or plants, but they do occasionally damage seedling plants by feeding on stems and leaves, and may enter homes in large numbers during periods of migration and become a considerable nuisance. They do not cause damage inside the home, although they may leave a stain if they are crushed. Centipedes, which have poison glands and can bite, pose an occasional threat to humans.
The first and most important step in controlling millipedes and centipedes is removing or eliminating objects that provide hiding places for the pest outside the home. This includes reducing mulch near the foundation (especially near exterior doors) and reducing any leaf litter or other harborage like potted plants, log piles, or rock piles. The last two are favorite centipede harborages. If millipedes or centipedes occur in great numbers or are creating problems, applying pesticide around the building foundation and around doors and windows will provide temporary control. Contact your local County Extension Agent for the latest recommendations concerning insecticides and pesticides.
Use products approved for in-home use to treat cracks and crevices along baseboards and other areas where centipedes and millipedes may hide. Contact sprays may be applied directly to millipedes and centipedes for quick control when they are found inside the home. Baits mostly work just on millipedes. Follow all pesticide label instructions closely for safe and effective use, particularly in the home.
Source: Millipedes & Centipedes Revised by Elmer W. Gray, Extension Entomologist Originally Produced by Beverly Sparks, Former Extension Entomologist