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Ubiquitous millipedes

By Al Cooke
Posted Tuesday, June 15, 2004

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Perhaps a good starting point for a discussion of the problem of the ubiquitous millipedes is to quote another ChatLister: "Get used to's here to stay."

First let me correct the misconception that when you're at your wits' end, you can still pull out the pesticides and solve the problem. Regardless of your opinion of pesticides, they are frequently a short term solution to a long term problem. They do not last forever, usually weeks at best, often less. They may buy time to implement a more long term strategy. They may be an important part of control for some insects/weeds/diseases. But they are not magic. In the case of the millipede invasion they are often so ineffective that many pest control operators (a.k.a. exterminators) will not take on the millipede problem - that should tell us something.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, millipedes are the many-legged "worms" that people are finding in garages, on walls, in the house, and generally underfoot (where they crunch when stepped on). I have seen places where you could not put your hand on the wall without touching one or more. The good news is that they do not bite people, do not vector diseases, do not eat your food, and do only occasional and negligible damage to plants. They are among the decomposers that are responsible for the decomposition of organic wastes such as leaves and grass clippings. The bad news is that their appearance and eventual disappearance is about as predictable as the weather, but not quite. It is not a local issue only; my colleagues from the mountains to the sea are dealing with it as we do every year. It is widespread enough that an entomologist at NC State recently sent us some generic responses to questions he has been getting. Following are some of his comments about millipedes as well as springtails that some other folks are dealing with:

"The problems tend to increase with either excessive rain which can force millipedes and springtails to seek higher ground or with hot dry weather when they move in search of moisture."

"Millipedes are showing up almost anywhere indoors where they proceed to literally curl and die."

"So... what advice can we give about control? We can start with the usual recommendation of caulking/sealing obvious gaps through which the critters can invade, but that suggestion often falls short of the caller's expectations or interests.... Of course, from my experience any sort of chemical control recommendation will likely be equally ineffective."

"When I've talked to some of the pest control companies, I've gotten the usual mix of 'this works' and 'this hasn't worked'. The problem is that I hear the same chemicals mentioned in both categories."

"In my opinion, the primary reason for ineffective control is spray volume (or lack thereof). With few exceptions, such as properties with irrigation systems, the soils and mulches are often devoid of moisture because of little rainfall. Chemicals are getting tied up in the surface soil, thatch, and mulch, and we're simply not getting the chemical to penetrate sufficiently.... Regardless of what chemical is used, the key to trying to stop the springtails and millipedes outdoors is volume.. volume.. volume. If the companies are not putting out at least 10 gallons per 1000 sq. ft. (preferably a lot more), then they're not likely to get control."

"If homeowners want to try to doing the treatment themselves, they definitely need to use one of those garden hose sprayers in order to get the necessary volume. If they have a thick layer of mulch around the house, it needs to be pulled back preferably 18"-24" so the soil can be treated. Most treatment areas consist of about 3-5 feet around the house (out from the foundation wall), plus about 2 feet up the foundation wall. Any of the common outdoor insecticides that you find at the large retail stores and hardware stores can be used. The most common brands are Bayer, Ortho and Spectracide."

"As for granular insecticides, I'm not recommending them right now unless you know you're going to have rain or the area can be watered after applying the chemical. Granulars aren't magic; they don't dissolve in the soil. Granulars need moisture in the soil in order to work and if people aren't pulling back mulch or if they have a lot of thatch in their lawn, then granules are going to be far less effective. Also, some callers try spreading granular insecticides in their crawlspace... but I tell people that this is not a prudent use of a pesticide."

"As for indoors, that's somewhat of a losing battle if you try a typical baseboard spray. Simply vacuuming up the critters is a far safer approach from my perspective even though it's another suggestion that falls on deaf ears quite often. If the problem is severe and someone wants to try spraying, the best approach is probably a crack and crevice treatment along the baseboard using one of products that has one of those straw-like injector tips (similar to a can of 'WD-40'). Most of the retail stores have one of several brands. Periodic rainfall may help dampen the activity (both literally and figuratively), but I would not count on it bringing either springtail or millipede invasions to a halt. Particularly with stretches of hot, dry weather, we'll likely see the problem continue."

To summarize: try to tolerate them a little longer. If they're getting in the house, use the broom and dustpan or vacuum cleaner. Empty the vacuum after every use to avoid the unpleasant odor associated with dead millipedes. If you're going to spray something, prepare to use a lot of volume and get the soil well saturated below the mulch or grass. And expect less than eradication.

Al Cooke, Extension Agent
North Carolina State University
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, Chatham County Center
Post Office Box 279
Pittsboro, North Carolina 27312
Phone: 919.542.8202 FAX: 919.542.8246

Related info:
Al Cooke's web site
e-mail E-mail this page
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Ubiquitous millipedes

Related info:
Al Cooke's web site

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