Identification

Millipedes are long, thin creatures, either cylindrical or flat in shape and have segmented bodies. They tend to move slowly across the soil surface. They have two pairs of legs per segment which distinguishes millipedes from centipedes. Many species are able to secrete a smelly, brown fluid from pores along its side when disturbed, which acts as a defence mechanism against predators.

Size

Can range from 2cm in length (flat-backed millipedes) to 6cm in length (black millipedes)

Distribution

Widespread and common in Britain

Status

There are 62 UK species, of which three are newly listed as priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Habitat preference

Woodlands, hedgerows and gardens

Where to find them in the garden

Commonly found under the bark of rotting wood, amongst leaf litter and in compost heaps. Eggs (50 – 100) are laid in chambers in the soil. Like centipedes the young, which resemble the adults, hatch with fewer segments than the adults. Further segments develop as the millipede grows, with adults living 2 - 3 years. They may be found in the soil during the winter during which time they remain inactive.

Role in the garden

Feed mainly on decaying wood and vegetation and so play a vital role in the recycling of nutrients and hence improving soil quality and fertility. Some species do however also eat seedlings, roots and bulbs but few are significant pests.