The high number of legs scuttling on Texas millipedes captures attention, sometimes followed by concern about getting bitten or poisoned by the abundant arthropods. But are local species truly dangerous if encountered in homes or gardens? This guide delves into millipede capabilities in Texas to instill realistic perceptions of risks vs. myths.
Texas Millipede Basics
Let’s first review some fundamental facts about Texas millipedes:
- Millipedes belong to scientific class Diplopoda, order Polydesmida – not the insect group.
- Over 1,000 millipede species exist in the United States, with around 300 native to Texas.
- They have elongated segmented bodies with two pairs of legs per body segment. Leg counts range from 30 up to 750.
- Common Texas genera include Narceus, Abacion, and Floridobolus measuring 1 to 4 inches long.
- Coloration varies from grey to brown to orange, sometimes with contrasting stripes.
- Millipedes primarily feed on decaying plant matter and fungi, aiding decomposition.
- They are generally slow-moving and docile when undisturbed.
Familiarity with millipede biology and behavior paints a realistic view of their limited risks.
Why Millipedes Appear “Poisonous”
When threatened, millipedes employ intriguing defenses that wrongly suggest venom or toxicity:
- As a defense, they release a liquid spray containing benzoquinones or hydrogen cyanide that deters predators but is not poisonous to humans. However, it can cause skin and eye irritation.
- Some species even eject this chemical spray up to several inches toward threats when alarmed.
- The spray has a strong odor often described as fruity, almond, garlic, or rotten. This too helps repel predators.
- Millipedes will also tightly coil their bodies into a rigid spiral when threatened to shield vulnerable legs underneath armored plates.
So while not technically venomous, millipedes do have chemical and behavioral adaptations aimed at deterring injury or consumption that could appear toxic. But despite these defenses, direct contact poses very low risks to people who handle millipedes responsibly.
Millipedes Do Not Bite
- Millipedes lack the mouthparts like pincers or fangs needed to administer bites. Jaws built for chewing vegetation cannot pierce skin.
- When discovered, millipedes quickly curl into coils or flee rather than confront larger animals that could eat them. They avoid aggression.
- The only scenario where millipedes could inflict skin injury is if trapped against bare flesh they could potentially scratch with their many small legs flailing. But this is exceedingly rare.
- Numerous species coexist closely with humans, pets, and livestock their entire lives without ever biting or injection venom. Their behavior is benign.
So while jarring to find many-legged millipedes underfoot, they pose effectively no bite hazard. In fact, their primary aim is to keep as distant from potential mammalian predators as possible for self-protection.
Do Millipedes Carry Diseases?
Another worry is whether millipedes could transmit infections or illnesses by contact:
- Millipedes do not serve as carriers of diseases communicable to humans, pets or livestock.
- They groom themselves frequently to keep clean like insects, removing bacteria that could be infectious.
- While existing in soil, rotting wood, and compost, millipedes feed on decaying plant material rather than waste.
- No millipede-borne illnesses are known, nor have they been shown to spread germs onto food or surfaces.
- Their moist habitats do cultivate natural growth of fungi and microbes. But these accompany many arthropods, and are not carried externally by millipedes to new locations.
So while startling if large numbers swarm indoors at once, millipedes are harmless cohabitants that present no infectious health hazards. Their small reclusive nature limits risks.
Millipede Control and Bite Prevention
Though fears of bites are unmerited, large millipede congregations indoors still necessitate population reduction to alleviate homeowners:
- Place dehumidifiers to dry excess moisture that attracts them from lawns or foundations.
- Remove exterior leaf litter, wood piles, or stones resting on soil where millipedes breed.
- Apply pesticides labeled for millipedes outside if severe infestations persist. Use repellents cautiously indoors where needed.
- Seal cracks and foundation gaps that allow entry from moist gardens.
- Gentle sweeping or suction removal gathers stray millipedes without alarming them into defensive coil positions.
Sensible deterrence allows coexistence with docile millipedes while managing their populations and limiting indoor encounters. Their reputations as unwelcome “biting pests” is overstated.
FAQ – Texas Millipede Poison and Bites
Are millipedes harmful to humans?
No, Texas millipedes are not harmful, poisonous, or venomous despite releasing foul defensive spray. They pose no bites or disease transmission risk to humans from incidental handling or encounters in homes. Their small mouths do not bite.
What happens if you get millipede spray in your eyes?
The defensive secretions can cause eye irritation if directly sprayed into the eyes. Flush eyes with clean water for 10+ minutes if this occurs. Severe burning, blurred vision or rashes warrants medical evaluation. Use gloves when relocating millipedes.
Why do millipedes curl up when touched?
When threatened, millipedes instinctively and instantly coil their flexible bodies into tight spirals. This protects the vulnerable underside and legs within the armored plates along their backs. It serves as a defensive posture even if it cannot prevent predators from eating them.
Are dead millipedes poisonous?
No, deceased millipedes do not remain toxic or pose risks. But decaying remains can still release strong odors that deter investigation from animals. The defensive chemicals quickly break down and disperse after death, unlike innate venoms.
Do millipedes bite dogs or cats?
No, millipedes lack oral jaws capable of administering bites to people, pets, or livestock of any kind. At most, agitated millipedes may release stinky defensive spray if trapped against skin that causes only mild irritation without any venomous effects.
Are orange millipedes poisonous in Texas?
No Texas millipede species are poisonous or venomous despite bright coloration in some that mimics toxic organisms. Their small mouthparts cannot bite, and defensive chemical spray deters through odor not toxins. Their coloring is a warning, not a poison.
What is the black stuff that comes out of millipedes?
Millipedes release a tar-like substance containing benzoquinones and hydrogen cyanide when threatened. This stains surfaces black and has an unpleasant odor that deters predators but is not directly toxic or venomous despite its dramatic effects.
Can millipedes kill you?
No, all millipede secretions and behaviors are non-lethal defenses aimed at deterring predators and preventing consumption. Only very large tropical millipedes over 8 inches long have more irritating spray. Texas species are harmless to humans if accidentally handled.
The many species of millipedes crawling across Texas landscapes appear intimidating but are innocuous decomposers important to local ecosystems. Recognizing their vegetarian diets and actual roles in nature helps overcome inaccurate assumptions about biting pests to poison hazards. With basic monitoring for infestations and sensible population deterrents where warranted, Texans can coexist with benign millipedes peacefully.