NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

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The yellow spotted millipede, Harpaphe haydeniana, has also been called the almond-scented millipede or the cyanide millipede because of the hydrogen cyanide that it secretes when molested. At low concentrations, hydrogen cyanide smells like almond extract. Although hydrogen cyanide is exceedingly toxic, the small amount each millipede produces is not hazardous to human health. Yellow spotted millipedes are large (up to 2 inches long), flattened, black arthropods with yellow spots along the sides. They have 31 pairs of legs (females) or 30 pairs of legs (males). The millipede also protects itself by curling into a ball, resembling a snail. Females lay several hundred eggs in a moist, protected location, commonly under a log. Eggs are laid where there is a ready food supply for the newly hatched tiny young. Eggs hatch after three or more weeks of incubation. Immature millipedes are pale and have fewer segments and legs than mature millipedes. As they molt and grow, immature millipedes become darker, the spots get brighter, and they add body segments with each molt. Yellow spotted millipedes live 2 to 3 years.

Yellow spotted millipede

Yellow spotted millipedes are found occasionally crawling about in the yard.

Yellow spotted millipedes spend

Yellow spotted millipedes spend most of their time feeding on leaf litter.

Immature yellow spotted millipedes

Immature yellow spotted millipedes are small to tiny and pale.

Immature and adult yellow spotted millipede

Immature and adult yellow spotted millipedes curl up when disturbed.

Mature yellow spotted millipedes feed on a variety of dead leaves and decayed wood including both conifers and several deciduous species. Immature millipedes feed on humus. The litter that this millipede consumes is digested and excreted as fecal pellets.

Residential Recommendations

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Yellow spotted millipedes never seem to be abundant in North Carolina. Because they contribute to the breakdown of leaf litter into humus, ecologically yellow spotted millipedes may be considered neutral to beneficial. No pesticide application seems to be warranted.

Other Resources

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Professor Emeritus
Entomology & Plant Pathology

Publication date: July 2, 2019
Revised: Oct. 24, 2019

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