Behold the lowly millipede. Worm like muncher of mulch slowly traversing the dunes only to expire in silent desiccation against the foundation of your home. What has brought this creature to such an end and why have hundreds of his relatives chosen to accompany him in this apparently senseless assault on your peaceful home?
The name millipede means “thousand legs” but the world record for legs belongs to a California species sporting a mere 750 legs. Pretty close that, but our local variety carries less than 350.
With all those legs you would think they would have trouble tripping over their own feet but if you look closely you can see they move their feet in waves that cascade along their undersides. Incredibly, they seldom have more than 6 of them on the ground at any one time. Most of them are in some stage of movement preparing for the next step. So what do they need all those legs for?
Millipedes live in moist, decaying plant litter and spend most of their lives under ground, feeding and mating in the marshy swales between dunes. Their antenna are short and protected by the blunt shell covering their head and many species have only rudimentary eyes or have abandoned eyes altogether.
They fill a niche similar to that of the earth worm in that they reduce plant material and aerate the soil. Pushing through these materials has caused the millipede to evolve into a miniature bull dozer and this is where all those legs come into play, providing the muscle and traction to move through the soil.
Though millipedes are active throughout western Washington the most notable pest species occur along our ocean dunes where an annual supply of dune grasses and frequent rains create conditions perfect for this creature.
Huge populations can be supported by small puddles and marshy areas throughout most of the summer but as these dry out in late July and August they move en masse in an attempt to find more suitable habitat.
If you happen to have a home near one of these migrations your home may literally encounter thousands of these insects in a few hours.
Millipedes are quite harmless but they are not without defenses. Many can exude smelly fluids and the ones in our dunes actually contain cyanide compounds that are repellant to many animals. These compounds are highly reactive with vinyl and plastics. Stepping on one or allowing it to lie dead on the floor can leave a permanent mark like a tea stain.
Tight door and window seals are the best defenses against these migrations and eliminating harborage against the foundation of your home can provide some additional reduction in numbers but if your home is overwhelmed, regular exterior treatments are often the only relief.
Our basic maintenance services cover this insect so don’t be miserable, let us know so we can help.