Millipedes are worm-like bugs called arthropods. Certain types of millipedes release a harmful substance (toxin) if they are threatened or if you handle them roughly.
Millipedes are exceptionally well-endowed with defensive chemical secretions (toxins or poisons) that effectively deter most predators. Some large species can eject secretions for distances up to 80 cm (32 inches). Contact with these secretions may cause allergic reactions in some people.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Hydrochloric acid, hydrogen cyanide, organic acids, phenol, cresols, benzoquinones, and hydroquinones (in some millipedes)
If the millipede toxin gets on the skin, symptoms may include:
- Staining of the skin (turns brown)
- Intense burning or itching of skin
If the millipede toxin gets in the eyes, symptoms may include:
- Blindness (rare)
- Inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids (conjunctivitis)
- Inflammation of the cornea (keratitis)
Exposure to a large concentration of millipedes and their toxins may cause nausea and vomiting.
Wash the exposed area with plenty of soap and water. Do NOT use alcohol to wash the area. Wash eyes with plenty of water if any toxin gets in them. Get medical attention right away. Tell the health care provider if any toxin got in the eyes.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- The name of the insect, if known
- The time the person was exposed to the toxin
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
If possible, bring the millipede to the emergency room for identification.
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate.
The symptoms usually go away within 24 hours after exposure. A brownish discoloration of the skin may persist for months. Severe reactions are mainly seen in tropical species. The outlook may be more serious if the eyes are involved.
Erickson TB, Marquez, Jr. A. Arthropod envenomation and parasitism. Auerbach PS, ed.Wilderness Medicine
Fritsche TR. Arthropods. In: Cohen J, Powderly WG, Berkley SF, et al., eds.Infectious Diseases
Schlossberg D. Arthropods and leeches. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds.Goldman's Cecil Medicine
Steen CJ, Schwartz RA. Arthropod bites and stings. In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, et al., eds.Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine
Update Date 1/31/2014
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.