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For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada
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Class Diplopoda - Millipedes

Millipede - Conotyla blakei Red and black millipedes (Narceus americanus) - Narceus americanus-annularis-complex Parajulidae? polydesmid millipede - Oxidus gracilis polydesmid? Pennsylvania - female Abacion magnum - Abacion Boraria infesta - male
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Myriapoda (Myriapods)
Class Diplopoda (Millipedes)
Other Common Names
Explanation of Names
Diplopoda Blainville in Gervais 1844
worldwide, >13,200 spp., 80,000 estimated (based on known degrees of endemism), arranged in 2 subclasses, 18 orders, and ~200 families(1); in our area, >900 described spp. in 217 genera of 52 families (of which 17 are endemic to NA, and 7 are non-native) but hundreds await description, particularly in the Glomeridae, Parajulidae, Atopetholidae, Cleidogonidae, Trichopetalidae, Striariidae, Polydesmidae, and Nearctodesmidae(2)(3)(4); 66 documented & ~100 estimated spp. in Canada(5)
Families represented in our area
Classification adapted from(3). Taxa not yet in the guide are marked (*), non-native taxa in brackets.
Order Polyxenida
Infraclass Pentazonia
Superorder Oniscomorpha
Infraclass Helminthomorpha
Subterclass Colobognatha
Subterclass Eugnatha
Superorder Juliformia
Order Julida
Superfamily Juloidea [Julidae]
Suborder Spirostreptidea
Superorder Nematophora
Suborder Striariidea
Superorder Merocheta
Suborder Leptodesmidea
Suborder Polydesmidea
Infraorder Oniscodesmoides
Infraorder Polydesmoides
3‒320+ mm worldwide; the longest millipede of our fauna (Paeromopus paniculus) up to 160 mm
key to orders & families in (6)(7)
Two pairs of legs on all but the first three body segments (47‒375 leg pairs and 25‒189 body segments, not counting head and tail segment). Body flattened or cylindrical. In some groups, notably Polydesmida, body segments are laterally explanate. Pill Millipedes (Glomerida) are short-bodied, can roll into a ball, and look like pillbugs.
Sexing: adult males usually have modified legs (gonopods). Most have 1‒2 pairs of gonopods on segment 7, but in the Glomerida they are on posterior segments, while Polyxenida lack gonopods altogether.
worldwide and throughout NA
Moist habitats under rocks, rotting logs, organic debris, etc.
usually decaying plant material; a few spp. occasionally carnivorous. Some may feed on living plant tissue.
Life Cycle
Millipedes hatch with 3 pairs of legs, and add segments/legs as they molt; some live up to 7 years.
To protect themselves, millipedes coil or roll into a ball; many emit poisonous (e.g., cyanide-containing) or foul substances (e.g., benzoquinones)(8)
"Millipedes lack the structures to bite, pinch, or sting, and are harmless to humans, although the defensive secretions burn if they get into the eyes. Millipedes are non-toxic to humans and can be picked up by hand. Some secretions discolor the skin, with no lasting effects. Some large, cylindrical, tropical species squirt defensive secretions up to a half meter and can blind chickens and dogs." ‒Rowland Shelley
See Also
Centipedes have only one pair of legs per body segment, and the last pair of legs extends backwards behind the body; they can run fast and can bite. Millipedes are slow-moving and unable to bite.(9)
Works Cited
1.Catalogue of Life
2.Checklist of the millipeds of North and Middle America
Richard L. Hoffman. 1999. Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publications.
3.Shelley R.M. The myriapods, the world’s leggiest animals
4.Sierwald P., Bond J.E., Shear W.A. (yyyy-) Milli-PEET: The class Diplopoda
5.Myriapoda of Canada
Langor D.W., deWaard J.R., Snyder B.A. 2019. ZooKeys 819: 169-186.
6.Practical keys to the orders and families of millipedes of the Neotropical region (Myriapoda: Diplopoda)
Hoffman R.L., Golovatch S.I., Adis J.U., Wellington de Morais J. 1996. Amazoniana 14: 1‒35.
7.A checklist of the millipeds of Mexico and Central America
Loomis H.F. 1968. Bull. USNM 266: 1‒137.
8.The chemical defenses of millipedes (Diplopoda): Biochemistry, physiology and ecology
Shear W.A. 2015. Biochem. Syst. Ecol. 61: 78‒117.
9.Spiders and Their Kin: A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press
Herbert W. Levi, Lorna R. Levi, Nicholas Strekalovsky. 2001. St. Martin's Press.