Sunday, May 1, 2011

Skinny Orange Soil Dweller With Many Legs - Answered

Following up from my April 10 post, I took a closer look at the skinny fast-moving orange thing. Its whole body is segmented and it has legs along the entire body. This picture is not stellar, but it's the best I could do:

You can kind of see its legs here. Like I said, I don't have a ton of them. But I did find 2-3 in the same corner of my garden with all the wireworms.

They are somewhat creepy. They curl into S's real fast sometimes when moving around.


I am very glad to hear that there are many legs. Otherwise I'd be at a loss. The many legs indicate either a centipede or a millipede. Neither one is a problem. Millipedes have 2 and sometimes 4 pairs of legs per segment. Centipedes have only one pair of legs per segment. I can't really tell from the picture, and I doubt you want to get close enough to check. Whichever it is, it's probably good that you have them.

Millipedes are usually beneficial to a garden. They feed on rotting leaves, wood, and help break down decaying plant matter. They are (generally) slower moving and curl into a characteristic C shape when you mess with them. When walking, their legs kind of undulate like a wave moving down the body. If you have a really large population, they have been known to damage seedlings. But this is pretty rare, and you don't have a ton of them. I don't think this is a millipede, anyway. Though I'd like to get a closer look at the thing that was curled into a C from the video you took. It could be a pill bug, a millipede, or even a cutworm.

Centipedes are generalist predators. They do move very quickly, and they don't curl up into a C-shape when disturbed. The fact that this thing is still running around when you have it on a new substrate makes me think it's a centipede. They lay eggs in moist soil in the spring, so you might simply have a hatching. They also might be feeding on the wireworms, since there is a positive correlation between the respective populations. Anyhow, they never damage plants. They might eat a few of your lovely earth worms too, but that's the worst harm they will do. When found inside a house, a lot of people immediately go into "Oh my god; kill it! Kill it now!" mode. Especially since some house varieties have really long legs. BUT. They eat cockroaches, flies and other pests. And they usually like dark and dank places - like basements. So if you can stomach it, it's better to leave them. Don't pick these up with your bare hands, because they have powerful jaws and some possess a mild poison. Seriously, one of the keys to determining whether you have a centipede or a millipede is, "attempts to bite." So well-meaning people who try to remove them from the house (rather than killing or leaving-be) can be in for a nasty shock.

Either way, I wouldn't worry about these critters. Millipedes are indicative of healthy soil and centipedes are creepy little warriors on your side.

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