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Millipedes: Little Brown Worms

By Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Entomology Specialist  

. "Little brown worms" is a common description of millipedes. The common local species is dark brown and about an inch long. They curl into a spiral when disturbed or when dead. Like all millipedes they possess a lot of legs -- two pair on every segment. These legs, however, are tiny and somewhat difficult to see.

Millipedes chew on plant matter. Because their jaws are small and weak, they largely are limited to feeding on partially decayed or very soft plant matter. Occasionally they will damage ripe strawberries, tomatoes or other fruit that lie on the ground, but this is rare. Their primarily ecological role is to help accelerate the breakdown of dead plant matter, acting as "macro-decomposers."

Although millipedes are very common in gardens and lawns, we seldom see them. An exception occurs during periods when they mass migrate. This usually occurs following periods of cool, wet weather in spring and early fall. Millipedes sometimes find their way into the home, as well, but quickly die out in the dryness of buildings.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010