CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Monday, 14 April 2008

Name that bug ...

100_0339 While I won't expect anyone to admit to being old enough to remember the quiz show, Name that tune (UK version), I do seriously need help naming this nasty little critter ...

Hopefully in one!

More importantly, can anyone help me figure out how to eradicate a plague of them, preferably without killing either myself or my pets in the process? You can probably just make out that it's some sort of centipede or millipede (the latter, I think). They come in one color, like the Ford Model T, in black; they're about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long and they crawl about everywhere.

WARNING: Do not eat while reading. Prepare to be grossed out.

When I say that they are everywhere, I mean everywhere.

Outside, sometimes you can hardly see a bare bit of white wall that isn't covered with them. Indoors, you can sweep out a whole pile of them, then turn to see a bunch more crawling about the floor like they were "beamed" down by Scotty! And as you can see from the photo of this cheeky one creeping around the light switch, they also climb the walls.

More grossly, I also find them on kitchen work surfaces, in the bathroom, drowned in the animals' water bowls and, the worst is when I sit at the computer, in the evenings especially, I'll suddenly feel something irritating me and find them crawling all over my feet.

You can't place anything on the floor here at all: furniture has to all be of the type that is off the floor on legs, you can't have any type of soft furnishings, like curtains or chair covers, bedcovers, etc., that drape, nor any form of rugs.

Wikipedia says of millipedes, that "they can also be a minor garden pest".

No, here they're a MAJOR indoor house nuisance that's becoming worse with every flood and resultant increase in dampness. Wikipedia also say that, "Many species also emit poisonous liquid secretions or hydrogen cyanide gas through microscopic pores ..." Whilst I am not about to get too paranoid about that (yet), it's interesting to note that these are the only bugs I've known both cats and dogs to avoid eating (which COULD indicate a good reasons not to); they do smell nasty and we do have a LOT of them. This article from the UK says:

"Millipedes, any of about 1000 species of cylindrical, many-legged arthropods. Millipedes have segmented bodies with two pairs of legs on each of the 9 to 100 or more abdominal segments, depending on the species, and one pair on three of the four thoracic segments. Because of their numerous legs the animal walks slowly with a wavelike motion of the legs down the body. In length they range from about 0.2cm to 23cm (about 0.1 to 9 inches). Millipedes have a hard protective layer of calcium-containing chitin (except in some small species), two simple eyes, one pair of mandibles, two short antennae, and (in most species) stink glands with secretions that repel or kill insect predators. Another protective strategy is to curl into a spiral or a ball when threatened. They live in dark, damp places and feed on decaying plant life, but they may damage seedlings. So as opposed to the centipede, these should be considered more of a pest and disposed of if seen."

Agreed, but how exactly does one dispose of sometimes hundreds a day?

Trying to sweep them out is a circular task like Forth Bridge painting! [1]

Now I can well believe that these nasty little buggers could be among the first animals to have colonized land millions of years ago, 'coz they've obviously had time to learn excellent survival tactics. Even if you spray those "guaranteed no bugs for a year" sprays at them, nothing happens. Well, they probably just grin and make a thousand little gestures with their multiple middle fingers. :)

It certainly doesn't kill them, nor deter more from coming in.

The powder insecticide (Cuchol) that is used on the vines against rot, used to be grey in colour and smelled like Fuller's Earth. In great enough quantity (all round inside the house, where it shouldn't have been as well!) it would cause these bugs to dry up and die. Then, in their infinite wisdom, the makers of this product decided to change the powder to blue, probably to some unnatural chemical. And it now has absolutely no effect at all on the millipedes, which are, of course, multiplying faster than our also omnipresent bunny rabbits.

I tried the old salt trick that works on slugs. Doesn't work on these.

I've asked someone from the Rural Park (run by the Cabildo, Island Council), who are the body responsible for the rules on insecticides (as well as campaigns for weed killing, rat poisoning, etc.), in this area and they hadn't got a clue!

A company in Australia seems to deal with repelling millipedes, but most of their suggestions would not be possible for me to implement, because I'm renting and I can't make any changes like digging holes, or fixing anything.

Yes, I'm at my wits end, but I probably won't try to shoot the millipedes:

New of the Weird tell us, "... a 20-year-old man was hospitalized in Guthrie, Okla., after encouraging his friend, Jason Heck, to kill a millipede with a .22-caliber rifle; after two ricochets, Heck's bullet hit the man just above his right eye, fracturing his skull."

Certainly, I can't afford to call an exterminator, not that I'd find one here (they appear to deal with hotels and cockroaches only), but I can't continue to live in these disgusting conditions. And, even if I could find an exterminator, as the house is set in a vineyard, I couldn't have chemicals sprayed that might conflict with that activity. But, on the off chance that someone, somewhere recognizes them and has successfully dealt with a plague of millipedes, or has any other suggestions, I'm throwing this call for help out to the internet at large.

[1] "Painting the Forth Bridge" is a colloquial term for a never-ending task (a modern rendering of the myth of Sisyphus), coined on the erroneous belief that, at one time in the history of the bridge, repainting was required and commenced immediately upon completion of the previous repaint.

A scholarly text, called "Dolichoiulus - a Mostly Macronesian Multitude of Millipedes" by Enghoff, H. (1992), with the description of a related new genus from Tenerife, Canary Islands (Diplopoda, Julida), could be describing these, but I haven't seen the document itself. For my reference: Desinfección, desinsectación y desratización en Tenerife.

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