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What Is a Millipede?

Millipedes are invertebrate arthropods that have segmented bodies.
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  • Written By: Lumara Lee
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2014
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A millipede is an invertebrate arthropod that has a segmented body. Most of its segments have four legs, and the number of segments varies. Members of the diplopoda class, there are many varieties which range from .08 inch (0.2 cm) in length to almost 12 inches (30 cm) long. The majority of millipedes are 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long. Coloration is mostly brown or black, with some sporting brighter shades of oranges and reds.

The millipede body generally is more rounded than that of a centipede, which only has two legs per segment. Millipedes move slowly and cannot bite or sting, but their hard shells offer some protection. In addition, they curl up when threatened, offering an armored surface to predators. The millipede has many predators, including birds, lizards, frogs, turtles, and small mammals.

Most millipedes have poor eyesight, and some are blind. These invertebrates eat decaying vegetation and live in damp locations under rotting logs, piles of leaves, and rocks. They reproduce via sexual reproduction, and the females lay clutches of 500 to 1,000 eggs.

Hatchlings molt as they grow, developing additional legs and segments each time they shed their skins. Although the word millipede means 1,000 legs, no millipedes have that many appendages. Most babies hatch with three pairs of legs, and the majority of the 10,000 species of millipedes have anywhere from 80 to 400 legs.

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Millipedes are mostly nocturnal. They use their many legs to tunnel through the soil. The average millipede has a very short life span, but some specimens have been known to live for 10 years or more. Several species can excrete a foul-smelling liquid in defense when disturbed.

Some common types of millipede are pill, spotter, duff, bristly, and flat-backed. Pill millipedes are shiny, black bugs that average 18 pairs of legs and are around .79 inch (2 cm) long. Spotter millipedes are yellow with red spots and are garden pests that can damage bulbs and potatoes.

Duff millipedes are tiny bugs that are attracted to pine bark. They often enter homes that have damp environments. Bristly millipedes are brown and get their name from the coarse hair covering their bodies. Flat-backed millipedes don’t have rounded bodies like the others in its class and can be brown or white.

The African black giant is the largest millipede in the world. Native to Africa, the black giant reaches a length between 7.5 inches (19 cm) and 11 inches (28 cm) at maturity. Its docile nature makes it a popular pet with those who favor arthropods.

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