Monkeys use them to get high, but people should sweep them out the door, experts say
Say hello to the yellow-banded millipede, a restless foreign invader worming its way into South Florida homes, where they go to shrivel up and die.
“They seem to be everywhere,” said Ruth Courtney Jones of Fort Lauderdale. “I never saw any until this year, then all of a sudden there were hundreds of them in my carport.”
The millies, about an inch or two long, aren’t insects, but rather arthropods, creatures with segmented bodies like shrimp or lobsters. Yellow bands encircle their olive-green segments like whitewalls on a tire, thus the name.
The invertebrates are harmless, and first arrived in Key West more than a decade ago. Scientists believe they originated in South or Central America and hitched rides to the U.S. in plants or luggage. They appeared in Miami-Dade County about 10 years ago, and have just kept moving.
“Here in Central Broward it is present. It’s in Palm Beach County as well,” said Bill Kern, an entomologist with the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center of the University of Florida. “It may be as far north as Martin or St. Lucie counties.”
The worm-like critters eat mulch or dead leaves, annually consuming 30 percent of leafy matter in their habitat. “They are beneficial,” Kern said. “They help to break down organic matter into a form that can be consumed by plants.”
While they like dampness, the millipedes — their name is an exaggeration meaning “a thousand legs” — can be driven indoors by rain or other weather changes. They can slip under doors or climb walls to get in your house, a bad move for the millie.
“The inside of a home is almost always too dry for a millipede to survive,” Kern said. “When they come in the house they’re usually doomed.”
Within a day or two, the ‘pedes succumb to dehydration, their bodies curled into dry husks. Simply recycle them, Kern advises. “Throw them outside, they’ll decompose,” he said. “Ants have to eat too.”
Before death takes them, they can still startle unsuspecting residents.
“I have a foreign exchange student staying in my house, and when she first saw them, she lost it,” Courtney Jones said. “She’s afraid of them.”
But there’s nothing to fear from confused little Anadenobolus monilicornis. “The simplest thing is when you see them, sweep them up in the dustpan and put them back in the leaf litter or mulch beds,” Kern said.
The mulch munchers, perhaps as part of mating or migrating behavior, can gather together in a twitchy, multi-legged swarm.
“The biggest problem is they build up in large numbers,” said G.B. Edwards, an entomologist with the Division of Plant Industry at the state Department of Agriculture in Gainesville. “I’ve had people complain that there was just solid masses of them climbing up the wall of their house.
“They get underfoot and they get squashed. People don’t like them.”
For our simian cousins, however, yellow-banded millipedes count as a double treat.
“Monkeys utilize them to repel mosquitos, and also to get high,” Edwards said.
They give off a mildy caustic defensive chemical that’s typically harmless to humans, but can act as an insecticide, which monkeys have learned to rub on their fur. They can also serve as a cheap hallucinogen.
“They eat them,” Edwards said. “I wouldn’t recommend a person doing that.”
The marauding millies may have reached their migratory limit. Sensitive to cold, they will likely squirm no farther north than Central Florida. Those of us within their subjugated territory must simply learn to coexist.
“There’s not a lot you can do, really,” said Edwards. “The main thing to do is just live with them, I guess.”
By Robert Nolin, Sun Sentinel