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If you see a creature with hundreds of legs crawling on your wall, don’t be afraid! It might be a millipede. Millipedes might look scary, but they won’t bite or sting you. Learn about millipedes, what they eat and where they live.

How Many Legs Do Millipedes Have?

Imagine what life would be like if you had 100 legs. You would never find a pair of pants that fit you, and your parents would go broke buying you shoes! Millipedes are bug-like animals with a lot of legs.

A Millipede
millipede

The word millipede comes from the Latin language and means ‘1,000 feet,’ but most millipedes don’t have that many feet.

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Most have about 40 to 400 legs. When they walk, they look like they are walking in waves because all their legs move together in a smooth motion.

What Do Millipedes Look Like?

Many millipedes are black or brown, but some are more colorful. They look like bugs, but they are actually invertebrates, a type of animal that lacks a backbone. Their most noticeable feature is their many legs, and when you look close, you notice that their bodies are divided into segments. Most of these segments have two sets of legs. These double-legged segments make them different than their cousins, the centipedes, which only have one set of legs per segment.

Millipedes have narrow bodies that vary in length from 1-5 inches long. Their bodies aren’t soft and squishy like worms. Instead, they have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton.

How Millipedes Live and Grow

No matter where you live in the world, there are likely millipedes nearby. If you go on a millipede hunt, the best place to look is under a pile of decaying leaves, logs or rocks, because millipedes like dark, moist places.

In your home, you might find them hiding in your dark, damp basement.

A Group of Millipedes
millipede group

But in spring, millipedes head outdoors to lay their eggs in the ground. This is how they reproduce. When the baby millipedes hatch, they only have three pairs of legs. As they grow, they molt, which means they shed their exoskeletons. Each time they molt, they grow more body segments and more legs.

The millipede eats the exoskeleton after molting, which might sound gross but provides essential nutrients. Millipedes live for 7-10 years.

What Do They Eat and What Eats Them?

Millipedes are usually happy making a meal out of old leaves and dead plants.

By breaking down decaying plants, the millipedes help nourish the soil. But they can also eat live plants, so they are not always great for a garden. Millipedes also have plenty of predators, and they can become a meal for a hungry bird, toad, badger, fox, rat or other small animal.

A Millipede Curled Up
millipede curled up

Millipedes might look scary, but they don’t bite, sting or pinch people.

If you or a predator gets too close to one, it will most likely curl its body into a tight ball to protect itself. Some types of millipedes can give off a chemical substance when they feel threatened. That chemical can cause your skin to itch or burn, so you shouldn’t try to pick them up.

Lesson Summary

Millipedes are invertebrates with segmented bodies and many legs (usually about 40 to 400).

Millipedes have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton, which they molt (shed) as they grow. They like to live in dark, damp places and eat decaying leaves and plants.

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