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Basic Millipede Care

Keeping your pet millipede happy and healthy

Substrate

Millipedes are detritivores which means they eat decaying wood, leaves and fungi. They will eat on and through their substrate so it's extremely important that its nutritious at all times. Don't use coir or eco earth as it has no nutritional value. Millipedes find it hard to digest and can suffer from blockages and death can occur. Pre made substrates are available to buy online, always check the ingredients and if you are unsure always contact the seller.

It is easy to make your own and more cost effective if you have large enclosures or multiple ones. The substrate can be made from a good quality topsoil that you can buy from a garden center. Make sure that it has no fertiliser or chemicals added for plant growth. Topsoil mixed with rotten wood and rotten leaf litter from oak, beech or birch trees in different stages of decay should be mixed through and on top of the substrate surface. The substrate should be at least as deep as the longest millipede in the enclosure allowing them to burrow and make moulting chambers.

When collecting rotten wood and leaves from outside you don't want hitchhikers getting into your enclosure and then possibly taking over. You can go through manually by hand, picking out any unwanted bugs, jumping worms , spiders ect. Leave what you have collected outside so that hitchhikers can escape, check multiple times over the course of a few days.

Some like to bake or even boil their wood and leaves but this reduces the nutritional value, you also run the risk of killing native species of bugs and millipedes just to keep a species of millipede that you prefer. Some keepers freeze what they have collected for 24 - 48 hours, but again check for native bugs and allow them to leave.

Collect from woodlands or forest areas that are dense and far from roads and public footpaths. Also make sure you don't collect from private land or parks without permission and certainly not from protected areas. The wood that you collect needs to be in different stages of decay i.e white, off white, light brown in colour. It  should crumble or tear easily in your hands, if it is dark brown or black it's of no use. The leaves should be decayed brown and rotten, ideally 3 - 6 months weather worn, a good tip is to collect in advance and store for the following year if possible.

Enclosure

A pet millipede enclosure can be as basic or complicated as you want. Your enclosure could be a terrarium, an aquarium, a RUB style box or something similar. Whatever you decide to use, please remember that the animals require a combination of good ventilation and humidity. In the case of plastic tubs as housing, simply melting or drilling some holes in the lid and on the sides should suffice. Your container should be AT LEAST the millipedes length in height, the width should be AT LEAST the length of the millipede and length should be AT LEAST 2 times the length of the largest millipede, again these are minimum requirements and more space is preferable. Obviously if you have an arboreal species you will need more height and will have to provide branches for climbing on. A water dish is not required as they will get any moisture they need from the substrate. A heat mat if required should be placed on the outside of the top third of the enclosure and NEVER UNDERNEATH as doing this would kill them.

Food and Upkeep

As stated above, millipedes eat their substrate so dead leaves and rotten white wood will need to be available at all times. Generally when the substrate is starting to look more like soil and less like a forest floor it's time to add more. You should also feed a variety of fruit or vegetables as a supplement every 12 - 14 days and remove any uneaten parts the next morning to prevent mould. They also need a source of protein 2-4 times a month which can be provided with the addition of dried dog or cat food, fish flakes, defrosted rodents, dried shrimp. Again any uneaten food should be removed in the morning. Some of the following fruits and vegetables are often accepted :

banana

cucumber

lettuce

mushrooms

water melon

apple

pear

strawberries

plum

chickweed

broccoli

cauliflower

sweetcorn (cooked)

dried meal worms

dried shrimp

defrosted rodents

Make sure these are always pesticide free, if in doubt peel them.

Other Information

When millipedes moult, they usually burrow underneath the surface, sometimes for several weeks. It is important not to disturb them at this time as they become very delicate and the slightest movement can kill them. Occasionally they will moult on the surface, again don't attempt to touch or move them. They are sometimes mistaken for being dead at this time, if you are unsure, leave them for a couple of days, then smell them as a dead millipede is very strong smelling. 

When handled, pet millipedes sometimes give off a substance that is yellow at first, then stains skin purple. This is completely harmless and will wash off in a few days. The flat millipedes do not do this and instead give off cyanide which is not enough to harm you but higher ventilation is required if keeping these species.

The substrate should always be damp but not soaking. 

Baby millipedes quite often appear, just keep them with the adults as they don't need extra care

We are often asked if they can cohabit with other species. Different species of millipedes that get to around the same size and have the same care needs can be housed together, other additions such as springtails are a great addition to the setup too. We are also aware that some people also keep various beetles, isopods and roaches with them but again, that's up for debate as to whether it's a good idea or not. We do not recommend it due the possibility of them harming your millipede when it is moulting and defenseless.

Some millipedes have mites, if they are reddish or brown in colour these are beneficial and no steps are needed to try to remove them. They will spend their entire life on the millipede and will not spread to anywhere else including to other animals. The only time they will leave the millipede host is if the millipede dies, they will then seek out another millipede host. These mites help to keep the millipede clean and healthy.

If you find slow moving white mites on your millipede, these are not the beneficial kind and in large numbers can cause harm or in extreme cases the death of your animal. These kind of mites thrive in overly moist conditions and feed on supplementary food including fruit, vegetables and protein sources. This can cause them to explode in numbers very quickly and the situation needs to be addressed immediately. We suggest in this situation to remove and stop feeding supplementary foods until the problem is under control and if necessary allow the substrate to dry out a bit. Also if your millipede is covered in them you can wash the millipede under a steady stream of warm (not hot) water and use a cotton bud to gently try to remove them. This is a last resort and shouldn't be attempted except in extreme cases. Having springtails in your enclosure should also help to control the problem.

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