Millipedes are in the same phylum as insects, spiders, and crabs, Arthropoda. There are 32 species listed for BC; one of the most common is one you’ve likely seen on Gabriola on trails and elsewhere: Harpaphe haydeniana haydeniana (Yellow Spotted Millipede).
Why they’re good neighbours
Many of us don’t much like bugs—especially fast-moving ones with lots of legs—but millipedes are an important part of forest ecosystems, breaking down leaf litter and freeing up its nutrients for other organisms in the forest—and your garden. For this reason they are considered beneficial and should be tolerated as much as possible.
Habitat: under rocks, rotting logs, organic debris.
Learn more! Check out UBC’s Millipedes of BC species list (PDF); Project Noah – Yellow-spotted Millipede; the Bug-Guide page on millipedes; or Milli-PEET: Millipedes Made Easy (this is a gateway to academic info from the Field Museum’s Special Project on millipedes, still under construction as of the time of this post—check the sidebar or try a search for “milli-PEET” to find content)
3 fun facts about millipedes
- They don’t really have 1000 legs. Most have fewer than 400. (!) But millipedes hatch with only 3 leg pairs—they add segments as they moult and grow, and some can live up to 7 years.
- To protect themselves they roll up. Yellow-spotted millipedes, among others, may exude a smell like almonds—but don’t eat them! That’s the smell of cyanide. They don’t bite or sting, so you can pick them up safely (though don’t rub your eyes afterwards as the secretions can sting).
- Millipedes have 2 pairs of legs on each segment, centipedes only have one pair per segment. This is important to know because millipedes don’t have a venomous bite, but centipedes usually do, though not all can break human skin.