North American Millipede

Narceus americana

Copyright, William R. Elliot

North American Millipedes are one of many species of millipedes in our area. This species grows quite large, over three inches long. They have rounded, segmented bodies and many legs. They are usually black, with pink, purple, or yellow on the edges of segments.

Each segment of the millipede has four legs (two pair), except for the first three segments, which only have two legs (one pair). Despite all their legs, millipedes move very slowly. Millipedes have one pair of short antennae.

North American Millipedes live in woods and fields, anywhere there is darkness and moisture. They are usually found underneath logs or dead leaves.

©David M. Barron/oxygengroup, http://www.oxygengroup.com/

Mark Moran

Millipedes eat dead and decaying plant matter, such as old leaves, stems, and flowers. They also eat fungi that is on the plant matter, and sometimes they eat partly decayed animals, such as earthworms, snails, and insects. Millipedes are very important, because they help put nutrients back in the soil for plants and other organisms to use.

Millipedes have tiny holes, called spiracles, on the sides of their segments. They breathe through these holes and must stay in places where there is moisture.

North American Millipedes are mostly nocturnal, coming out to feed at night.

Mark Moran

After millipedes mate, the female eats some soil and poops it out. She shapes the poop into a nest and lays hundreds of eggs in it. She then leaves the eggs.

When young millipedes are born, they only have seven segments and six legs (3 pair). They grow quickly though, and as they grow they molt (shed skin). With each molt, the young millipede grows new segments and legs.

North American Millipedes can live for several years.

Millipedes have predators, but they also have some good defenses.

First, if a millipede feels threatened it can roll up tightly into a coil, with its head and legs turned inward. This way its hard exoskelton (shell) protects the soft parts of its body.

If that doesn't work, the millipede lets out a foul-smelling chemical which makes it unappetizing to many predators.

Even with these defenses, millipedes are eaten by frogs, lizards, some beetles, and a few birds. Their main predators, though, are shrews. Millipedes are one of the shrew's favorite snacks.

Rosamond Purcell

Copyright, John White

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
North American Millipede
Video
Mark Moran
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Relationships in Nature:

FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Skunk Cabbage

Least Shrew

Poison Ivy

Kentucky Bluegrass

American Toad

Virginia Creeper

Five-lined Skink

Bracken Fern

Wood Frog

Cinnamon Fern

Common Black Ground Beetle

Skunk Cabbage

American Robin

Running Cedar

Garden Centipede

Bird-foot Violet

Brown-headed Cowbird

Kentucky Bluegrass

Striped Skunk

Common Greenshield

Eastern Mole

British Soldiers

Spotted Salamander

Three-lined Salamander

European Starling

Relationship to Humans:

Sometimes, millipedes (usually smaller species) crawl into homes. If there are many of them, they can be annoying, but they don't do any damage. Mostly, millipedes are very helpful, recycling old dead plants back into the soil.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Arthropod
CLASS
Diplopoda
ORDER
Spirobolida
FAMILY
Spirobolidae
GENUS
Narceus
SPECIES
Narceus americana

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