Narceus americanus is a large North American millipede. It inhabits the eastern seaboard of the United States through southeastern Canada and west to central Texas. It is one of the largest North American millipede species, reaching a length of four inches. When threatened, they releases a noxious liquid that contains large amounts of benzoquinones which can cause dermatological burns. This fluid may irritate eyes or skin. |
Millipedes, or "thousand-legged worms", are brownish-black or mottled with shades of orange, red or brown, and are cylindrical (wormlike) or slightly flattened, elongated animals, most of which have two pairs of legs per body segment, except for the first three segments which have only one pair of legs. Antennae are short, usually seven-segmented, and the head is rounded with no poison jaws. Their short legs ripple in waves as they glide over a surface. They often curl up into a tight "C" shape, like a watch spring, and remain motionless when touched. They range from 1/2 to 1-1/4 inches long depending on the species. They crawl slowly and protect themselves by means of glands that secrete an unpleasant odor.
Life Cycle and Habits
Millipedes can be long-lived, sometimes up to seven years. They overwinter as adults and lay eggs singly or in small groups in the soil. Some females lay between 20 to 300 eggs (fertilization is internal), which hatch in a few weeks with young reaching adulthood in the autumn. Some reach sexual maturity the second year, while others spend four to five years in the larval stage.
Millipedes are attracted to dark, cool, moist environments, usually going unnoticed in the summer due to their nocturnal habits (activity at night) and tendency to disperse. They feed on living and decomposing vegetation and occasionally on dead snails, earthworms and insects. Slight feeding injury can occur on soft-stemmed plants, in gardens and greenhouses. They cannot tolerate water-saturated soil, which forces them to the surface and higher ground. Likewise, dry, drought conditions can stimulate migration. In the autumn, it is believed they may migrate for better overwintering sites. If one or all of these conditions exist, sometimes hundreds or thousands (shovelsful) of millipedes are found in garages, first floor rooms and basements. Others believe that migration may occur when the food supply dwindles in October and November.
These creatures are usually abundant in compost piles and heavily mulched ornamental plantings, moving out shortly after sunset sometimes into dwellings. Over the past years, they have migrated in large numbers during a period of unusually warm weather for the time of the year (75 degrees F) and then would immediately stop when a quick drop in temperature (cold snap) occurred. Anyone handling these creatures without gloves will notice a lingering odor (hydrogen cyanide-like), and the fluid may be harmful if rubbed into the eyes. If crushed, millipedes may stain rugs and fabrics.
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