Who hasn’t come across the millipede, especially Pachyiulus communis? It is one of the oldest animal species on Earth, dating back approximately 425 million years. It’s estimated that there may be up to 80,000 different species of these invertebrates. Their prehistoric ancestors could reach lengths of over 2 meters, truly intimidating creatures. Modern millipedes, fortunately, do not exceed 40 cm.
The common millipede is often found in gardens, particularly in moist and hidden areas, where it plays an important environmental role. However, it frequently enters homes, creating unpleasant situations, even though it is entirely harmless to humans.
In this article, we’ll introduce you to Pachyiulus communis, its way of life, its usefulness in the soil, and how to keep it away from dwellings.
Introduction to Millipedes
The millipede species we’re examining in this class belongs to the order Julida, with the scientific name Pachyiulus communis. In practice, this is the most common millipede species found in Italy. In general, these invertebrates are classified as follows:
- kingdom: Animalia
- phylum (type): Arthropoda
- subphylum: Myriapoda (many feet)
- class: Diplopoda (millipedes)
Description of Pachyiulus communis
Although the term millipede is common in our collective imagination, no arthropod of this type actually has a thousand legs. The record of 750 legs is attributed to the species Illacme plenipes, while Pachyiulus communis does not exceed 300. A characteristic feature of these invertebrates is their body divided into multiple segments, each of which has two pairs of legs. The body of Pachyiulus communis is no exception and has a cylindrical shape with a brownish-black color. It possesses two antennae on its head.
The length of this creature is 5-6 cm in adults, which are capable of curling into a spiral to better defend themselves. The body has a hard consistency, resembling a kind of protective armor. The tiny legs are attached ventrally, making them very slow, unlike centipedes scolopendra and scutigera, which are lightning-fast due to their laterally positioned and adapted legs for running.
What’s interesting is the reproductive system of millipedes, which involves modified male legs called gonopods. These transfer packets of sperm to females in special sacs.
Is It Dangerous to Humans?
Millipedes are not venomous and, therefore, not dangerous to humans. However, when they feel threatened, they can release foul-smelling chemicals.
Where Do Millipedes Live?
Millipedes live and thrive in humid environments. Their preferred seasons are spring and autumn, which are the wetter seasons. They typically inhabit the soil, under pots, rocks, debris, decaying tree trunks, and beneath leaves.
In the evening, when the air is cool and humid, they often come out and may be seen on concrete surfaces. They usually live in groups, although they are not social animals. These gatherings can be quite annoying, even if only visually.
Why Do Millipedes Enter Homes?
While it’s entirely normal to encounter millipedes in the garden, finding them indoors is less common but not entirely surprising. Pachyiulus communis may attempt to enter homes to seek shelter, perhaps in the summer for a cooler place to roam. They are more likely to prefer basements and storage areas to sunny rooms. Entry points include doors, windows, and pipes. As mentioned, they are very slow creatures but can walk and climb practically anywhere. It’s not uncommon to find them on walls and in the remotest corners of the house.
What Do Millipedes Eat?
Millipedes, especially the species Pachyiulus communis, are detritivores, meaning they feed on dead plant matter. Their preferred “dishes” include foliage, rotting wood, food plant scraps, and damp paper. Unlike centipedes, they are not predators.
Its Utility in the Garden
Their dietary habits explain the usefulness of millipedes in the garden. Their decomposition of plant material contributes to the increase of soil humus, which is organic matter. Fertile soil is rich in organic matter, and these arthropods help create it. In essence, they behave very similarly to earthworms. Another utility they have is when they enter compost, helping to speed up the decomposition of plant waste in the compost bin.
How to Keep Millipedes Away from Homes
If you have a millipede invasion at home and don’t want to call a pest control company, there are useful precautions you can take. If they are already present, arm yourself with a broom and dustpan and keep the house as clean as possible. To prevent them from entering, you can sprinkle their entry points, such as window and door cracks, with fossil flour or diatomaceous earth. This is a powdery, entirely natural substance that is highly unpleasant to millipedes, spiders, ants, bugs, cockroaches, etc. It is inexpensive, not an insecticide, and readily available in specialty stores (find it here).