Do Millipedes Bite? Discover How They Defend Themselves!

Written by Emilio Brown
Published: January 10, 2022
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Unlike centipedes, millipedes are not able to bite. They must use other tactics to defend themselves so that they can survive. Millipedes live in soil habitats with plenty of decaying matter for them to feed on. Their mouth is not designed for or strong enough to bite. It is only used for eating soft decaying matter. 

Since millipedes cannot bite they must use other ways to defend themselves from natural predators in the wild. Millipedes are myriapods and have roamed the earth for over 400 million years. Using their defensive techniques they have been able to survive and reproduce in most areas of the world. Their many legs are not the only interesting thing to learn about this species. Let’s go over the different types of tactics a millipede will use when it feels it is in danger. 

Ways Millipedes Defend Themselves

Millipede - African Giant Millipede

Millipedes can release a toxin to defend themselves

©Wandel Guides/

Biting is not possible for the millipede, but they do have other ways to defend themselves. Millipedes can release a toxin from their body that will ward off any unwanted predators. Some species are even capable of spraying this toxin at an enemy. This toxin is not deadly to humans but is strong enough to cause discomfort and rashing.

Here is what you will find in the chemical makeup of a millipede toxin

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Phenol
  • Benzoquinones
  • Cresols
  • Organic acids
  • Hydrogen cyanide

Millipedes do not have good eyesight so they do not rely on it to try and watch out for predators. Most millipedes will use their antenna to see where they are going. If a millipede is physically disturbed that will cause them to release this toxin from its skin. This is usually enough to get rid of any unwanted attention.

Centipedes do bite and that is why they react differently when they’re compared to a millipede when threatened. Centipedes will try and run, only biting as a last resort. Millipedes are not fast, so they will not try to outrun any predators. Because they rely on their toxin they will first stay still, and release it from their skin when threatened. Millipedes also roll into a ball to defend themselves. This is to protect the soft part of its body, leaving only the outer shell exposed. 

Do Millipedes Bite - Millipede Rolled in Ball

Millipedes will roll into a ball to protect the soft parts of their body.

©dwi putra stock/

Naturally, they will avoid predators by remaining under the soil. In the night they will come out to scavenge for food but spend their day hiding under debris like logs, leaves, wood, and other dark areas. As a last resort or if threatened millipedes will try to burrow themselves into the ground. With so many legs they are able to quickly bury themselves and hide in the smallest of crevices. They also smell bad, which is another way they try to get rid of predators.

Predators Of Millipedes

Even with their many defenses, millipedes are still victims to countless predators in the wild. Some species that will hunt millipedes include toads, shrews, birds,  large insects, and spiders. Millipedes and centipedes get eaten by a wide range of animals and are considered at the bottom of the food chain. The toxin they secrete is not able to stop all predators from feasting on them.

Are Millipedes Harmful To Humans?

Big millipede walking on concrete floor.

Millipedes are generally not harmful to humans, but their toxin can cause rashes.


Since millipedes cannot bite, some may think they are harmless, but you should still be careful before messing with a millipede species. Millipedes are not harmful to humans, but their toxin is still capable of irritating our skin. It is even more severe if you are allergic.

If you pick up a millipede you should be careful not to startle it because it may secrete harmful toxins on your skin. It is not deadly but side effects include rashes, redness, itching, and burning. If you are allergic to millipede toxin then you may have symptoms of facial swelling, breathing difficulties, fast heart rate, and unconsciousness. It is rare for any serious symptoms to occur, but you should still be careful before picking up a millipede. Rubbing your eyes after touching a millipede can irritate your eyes, and cause inflammation. It is rare, but may also cause blindness if any secretion gets in your eyes. 

Treating a millipede rash is easy. You should wash your hands immediately when you feel a millipede has released toxin on you to avoid any damage. Aloe vera plant or burn gel will help treat any burns. Using allergy medicine like Benadryl will help take away any itching brought on by the toxin. Medical treatment may be required if you have a severe reaction to the toxin and can help recover more quickly.

Millipedes do not have a strong toxin, and most species are harmless. The smaller the millipede the less harmful it will be. It is only large species of millipede that have strong toxins to defend themselves. Larger millipedes will have a stronger smell and more potent toxins. 

Why Are Millipedes Found In Homes?

In your home, you may find millipedes finding their way inside. They will look for secure shelter in extreme weather like excess rain, or extremely hot temperatures. Having them in your home is harmless, but they can be annoying when found in high numbers. Millipedes will travel to areas high moisture in your houses like bathrooms, basements, or kitchens.

Millipedes in the home are not harmful, as they are too small to cause any real damage. In large numbers, you may have a reaction from their toxin left behind, but they will not cause any damage to your home.

Getting rid of house millipedes is generally easy. Using dehumidifiers and getting rid of any damp areas will stop them from having a viable habitat in your house. You can also seal any holes or cracks to prevent them from getting into your house.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © dwi putra stock/

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About the Author

Spiders, snakes, and lizards are my favorite types of animals, and I enjoy keeping some species as pets. I love learning about the various wonders nature has to offer and have been a writer for 5 years. In my spare time, you can find me getting out into nature.

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