Although the name “millipede” is derived from the Latin for “thousand feet”, there is no known species with a 1,000 feet. The highest recorded is 750 feet.

Appearance, life cycle and habits

Millipedes are characterised by having two pairs of jointed legs on most body segments. The body is round and the outer casing is quite hard. Movement of the body appears to occur in waves, running from front to rear. Millipedes are typically 200 mm long.

Millipedes stay hidden in the soil during hot and dry weather, but with spring rains millipedes will emerge in huge numbers, to feast on their favourite diet of leaf litter, fungi and decaying wood. Native to Europe, the Portuguese millipede first appeared in South Australia in 1953, but lacking natural predators, they are now widespread across southern Australia.

They are most active at night and are attracted to light, which explains why they can often be spotted in large numbers on well-lit walls. They are well-known for their pungent odour, designed to repel predators. This distinctive smell is often present when a few millipedes are accidently squashed on pathways.

Useful tips on millipedes

  • Getting rid of leaf litter will also remove their food source.
  • Use a broom rather than feet to remove the millipedes, as accidentally crushing them will bring forth that unfortunate lingering smell.

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