East Texas Ag News: Millipede numbers appear up this year

Black and brown millipede on a green and brown branch
Black and brown millipede on a green and brown branch(KTRE)
Updated: May. 21, 2020 at 2:19 PM CDT
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ANGELINA COUNTY, Texas (KLTV/KTRE) -The current insect pest that I’ve been getting phone calls about is the greenhouse millipede. Oxidus gracilis, or the greenhouse millipede, is a common species in Texas.

As all critters grow and mature, there are certainly cases where the conditions line up and are favorable to developing a huge population. And when that happens, everyone affected immediately notices.

Over the years we’ll have an “outbreak” of one type of insect or another. The fact is that insects of all kinds lay an abundance of eggs. Some lay hundreds or thousands of eggs. The vast majority never hatch, complete the larval stage, or make it to an adult insect.

But occasionally, some do.

The disparaged Lovebug, for example, is known to be a huge problem in some years and hardly noticeable in others. Again, there are environmental factors at play. When everything works out just right, their numbers explode, and my windshield is a mess.

Evidently in some locations in East Texas, millipedes have had just the right conditions for their numbers to explode.

So, let’s try to understand them more. Millipedes and centipedes do not carry diseases that affect people, animals or plants. They are typically found in moist habitats or areas with high humidity and are most active at night.

The name millipede literally means “thousand feet” and though most don’t have that many legs, that’s still a lot of feet to keep track of. What’s even more remarkable about millipedes, once you get to know them, is their ability to reach astronomical numbers when weather conditions are prime.

Their role in nature is to serve as “decomposers,” feeders on dead plants, and decaying wood. Without critters like millipedes you wouldn’t be able to get new grass to grow through the layers of dead grass and leaves, and compost piles would take longer to produce compost. But this doesn’t stop them from sometimes becoming a royal nuisance.

Millipedes do occasionally damage seedling plants by feeding on stems and leaves and may enter homes in large numbers during periods of migration and become a considerable nuisance. They do not cause damage inside the home, although they may leave a stain if they are crushed.

Millipedes are not poisonous, but many species have glands capable of producing irritating fluids that may cause allergic reactions for some individuals.

Centipedes and millipedes are certainly not the same creature and neither are classified as an insect. They are arthropods like an insect, but they are land-dwelling distant relatives to crawfish and shrimp.

Some folks may be seeing house centipedes. They have much longer legs and antennas than the greenhouse millipedes.

The house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrera, may be found in and around damp areas such as in closets or bathrooms or underneath the home. House centipedes search for insects at night. This species reaches about 1½ inches long and has 15 pairs of long, slender legs. The back legs capture prey by using a lassoing technique.

Although house centipedes are beneficial, many people consider them a nuisance in the home. Occasionally, we may be bitten by centipedes, but the poison usually only produces a moderate reaction similar to a bee sting.

Centipedes are often called 100-legged worms and have one pair of legs on each of their body segments. Centipedes have poison glands and can bite. As such they can pose an occasional threat to us.

Centipedes are found in a variety of habitats but prefer dark, moist, protected areas such as under stones, rotted logs, leaves, and bark. They overwinter as adults and lay eggs in the soil during the spring and summer.

But how do you get rid of a heavy infestation? A good cleaning will eliminate a number of insects. A broom and dustpan work exceedingly well for hard floors. Be sure to eliminate any cracks around windows and doors where critters can enter.

Interestingly, you will be able to eliminate these non-insect creatures with a variety of insecticides. Read the label and follow directions carefully.

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