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And now for your pest of the week

By John Fulton          Send a link to a friend

"The big problem with millipedes is that they migrate. Right now they may be migrating through your living room."

[SEPT. 13, 2004]  The last week has found the lowly millipede taking homes by storm. If millipedes were insects, they would deserve "insect of the week" honors. Since they are not insects, we'll just dub them "pest of the week."

What are millipedes? They belong to the arthropod class Diplododa, which means double-footed. The reason is simple: They have two legs per body segment. There are many different types of millipedes, over 1,000 actually. They prefer to live in moist places, such as under mulch, in flower beds, in good-quality lawns and under wood. They feed on decaying organic matter and occasionally on tender leaves or roots.

Millipedes lay eggs in the soil in spring and summer months and usually overwinter as the adults that we are seeing now. The big problem with millipedes is that they migrate. Right now they may be migrating through your living room. Nobody knows for sure why they migrate, but the best guesses involve searching for food sources and seeking moisture.

Unlike centipedes, millipedes don't bite or sting. They do give off a bad odor when disturbed or smashed. Be careful crushing them on carpeting, as they can cause a stain. If you're not sure whether you have millipedes or centipedes, here are some differences: Centipedes have one leg per body segment, while millipedes have two; centipedes normally have much longer legs than millipedes; and centipedes move rapidly, while millipedes move slowly.

Now that we know a little about millipedes, how do we get rid of them? Well, there isn't a simple answer (or I'd be rich), but an integrated program gives the best results. A program that uses both chemical and nonchemical methods is usually most effective.

 

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Nonchemical controls aim at removing the moist resting places. Dethatch your lawn to reduce that damp thatch layer just above the soil surface, closely mow and edge the lawn to allow it to dry quickly, remove debris that provides hiding places, pull mulch away from the house, water grass in the early morning, and keep leaves from piling up along the foundation.

If millipedes get inside the house, the vacuum cleaner is probably the best control. It is nonchemical and prevents stains from smashed millipedes. Other controls in the home include sticky boards such as are used for mouse control, aerosol sprays that are used for flying insects and baseboard spays used for ants.

Outside the house, start with a foundation spray of something such as propoxur, permethrin or Sevin. Spray the foundation and the adjacent foot or so of soil and plants or lawn. Make sure you treat doorways and other openings as well. Since millipedes aren't insects to begin with, don't expect a complete wipeout with a chemical spray program.

Things to do

Of course there are plenty of things to do in the back yard. The foundation spray mentioned above will also help with cricket control. You can still plant a fall crop of lettuce or spinach in the garden. Sometimes spinach will even survive the winter and provide an early crop for next spring. Harvest pumpkins and squash as they mature and make sure to leave the stem attached. Check for grubs one last time and apply a control if needed. Grub numbers in the area have been impressive this year. And, finally, enjoy the fall.

[John Fulton,
Logan County Extension office]

Previous articles by John Fulton

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