What do giant millipedes eat as a pet?

What do giant millipedes eat? An important question when you consider keeping a millipede or when you have purchased a millipede recently. Quality and nutritious food are crucial for a healthy and happy millipede. When considering that millipedes are detritivores — animals that feed on decaying organic matter — what do you feed a giant millipede as a pet?

Millipedes eat primarily decaying organic matter, like rotten wood and leaves, which should be available at all times for you pet millipede. Although they can solely survive on this food, it is good practice to provide supplemental food items like fruits and vegetables.

How do you feed decaying wood and leaves, and how often do you feed them? There is much more to learn about the best practice of feeding pet millipedes. Let’s discover more about their fascinating food choice and how you can provide it for them.

Photo by Treehugger

A look at the millipede diet

Millipedes peacefully meander munching on whatever decaying matter they happen to find on their way. They are categorised at detritivores, which means they prefer decaying matter over fresh matter. So please don’t feed them fresh leaves or grass, they won’t do anything with it. Instead, we need to provide decaying matter to them.

Primary food source

The primary food source for millipedes is decaying wood and rotten leaves. Tasty right? Well, it is in the eyes of millipedes. And this is what should be available for them at all times. They won’t thrive on a diet consisting only of fruit and vegetables.

The best way to feed them is to add rotten wood and decaying leaves in the substrate and mix it in. The wood pieces need to be crumbled in small pieces. They will munch from it when scouring the enclosure floor, and this way the newly hatched millipedes have food available immediately. It is the same with rotten leaves, just mix them in the substrate, but also place a cover layer on top of the substrate.

You can’t use just any rotten wood and leaves. First of all, these items need to be from hardwood tree species. Softwood often has resinous sap in it which harm or kill your millipede. It is the same as with using pines. They are unhealthy for millipedes.

The rotten wood needs to be very soft (so rotten that you can scrape pieces off with your fingernail). Avoid the dark brown and black rotten wood pieces. Almost every insect often avoids these parts, so it is unwise to feed that to your millipede.

Do you want to know more about creating good quality substrate? Read all about it how you make it and why you need it in the article ‘Substrate for millipedes: What you should know‘.

Supplemental food source

Although millipedes can survive on decaying plant matter only, they will start to thrive when you feed them supplemental food items.

Items that are perfect to feed millipedes are:

  • Fruits such as watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, pears, oranges and pumpkin.
  • Vegetables such as cucumber, endive, chicory, carrots, celery and tomatoes.
  • Dry dog or cat food pellets.
  • Powdered food such as powdered milk, baby powder formula and powdered calcium supplement.

By adding these products, you provide them with all the nutrients they need. However, because they like decaying food, they also like fruits and vegetables that are ripe, and that starts rotting (for example, bananas that already turn brown). The softer it gets, the easier the millipede starts to nibble on it. Also, slice products so they can easily access it and that it starts decaying quicker (think of a sliced apple, they turn brown rather quickly).

You can crush and add some cuttlefish bones to supplement them with calcium. Calcium is very valuable for millipedes for moulting and buildup good hard exoskeletons.

Photo by Garden Drum

What not to feed your millipede

Some products should be avoided. We already stated that you need to avoid wood and leaves from softwood tree species, because of the resinous saps.

Very fresh products are also often not eaten. With oranges, bananas and other fruits, you need to peel them first. Tubers, like turnip, are also not very well accepted. Avoid products like onions, peppers, garlic, herbs, or similar products. Iceberg lettuce is also a product that should be avoided. Iceberg does not provide adequate nutrients for your millipede.

Does the diet change throughout their lifecycle?

In every life stage, a millipede will eat the same and have the same requirements. However, when a millipede starts his life after hatching, it first will start eating on the food source that is closest to them. They won’t come above the surface, so they need to feed on what is in the substrate.

That is one of the reasons you need to add and mix rotten wood and leaves into the substrate. Why not place supplemental food items in the ground, you might think? Well, it is because these type of food items start to rot rather quickly. If you forget to remove/replace the items, the mould and bacteria start to grow rapidly, which in turn harm your young baby millipedes.

As soon as the small millipedes have grown to half the adult size, they will start emerging above ground and also start feeding on the other food items you provide.

What are millipedes favourite food items?

Different species of millipedes, but even different individuals, have different items they favour. One common item they all love (and need) is their primary food source.

However, some products are more favoured than others. Pumpkin, cantaloupe, watermelon and cucumber seem to be favoured by almost any species. Because cucumber is rather cheap, we often provide this as supplemental food.

I also have good experience with endive, especially when it is in the enclosure already for one day. But I can’t read many reports that many other millipede species favours this as well.

How much and how often to feed your millipede?

The primary food source needs to be available at all times. When millipedes hatch, they need to be able to feed immediately from decaying plant matters. But also adult and pre-adult millipedes need food soon after moulting, to regain their energy.

The supplemental food items can be fed as frequent as once a day, although, it is a better practice to leave food items for a bit longer to ripen as millipedes prefer. However, don’t let the food items lay in the enclosure for too long, to prevent it from moulding and growing bacteria on it. Also, when food items are left in the enclosure too long, they attract pest like parasitic mites.

How much food you provide depends on the number of millipedes in your enclosure, but generally, you can feed them as much as they can eat in a day. It is not a major problem when you end up with food leftovers, as long as you remove it before it starts giving problems (mostly because it starts to mould).

If it so happens that mould starts to grow in your enclosure, remove the food and substrate parts that were affected by the mould (so-called ‘spot cleaning’). In case pests have found its way into your enclosure, you need to refresh parts or the entire substrate before they negatively affect your millipedes.

Photo by Fort Collins Museum Of Discovery

Best way to feed your millipede?

Where the primary food source is mixed in the substrate, the supplemental food items can just be placed onto the substrate. Millipedes will find their way to the food source.

You don’t need any food bowl for slices of fruit or vegetables. You often see, when you remove uneaten food parts, that millipedes will lay beneath it eating underneath while partly laying in the substrate. Especially smaller millipedes do that. Maybe because they prefer the protection and safety of the substrate. When you give them food in a bowl, they can’t access the food.

However, I like to provide dry dog and cat food in a food bowl instead, and mainly because of three reasons.

  1. When you place dry dog and cat pellets in a food bowl and spray it with water, the water remains in the food bowl and is absorbed by the pellets. The pellets will expand and become softer, which makes it easier for millipedes to eat.
  2. Because the pellets contain more moisture, will better hydrate your millipedes.
  3. Food items sometimes sink or pulled below the surface of the substrate. When you want to refresh the food items, you don’t have to disturb the whole substrate, and you can’t miss any food particles that eventually can cause problems like mould.

But with any other food item, just lay it on top of the substrate, it just works fine.

Do millipedes need water?

There are mixed reports about drinking water for millipedes. Yes, like almost any other animal, millipedes do need water to keep hydrated and alive. However, the way how to provide it differs.

I don’t use any water bowl. Although a shallow water bowl doesn’t cause many problems (it is improbable that small millipedes will drown in it), I don’t see any perk to providing one. I have not seen any of my millipedes drink from a bowl.

I daily mist spray the enclosure from top to bottom. Millipedes drink from the water drops they find on their walk (from the glass but also plant leaves and wood pieces). Next to that, when you keep the substrate damp your millipedes will stay hydrated. And last, the food sources that you provide, like for example cucumber, contain a lot of moisture for your animals.

Although a shallow drink bowl can be provided, you always have to make sure that your substrate stays damp. Newly hatched millipedes need some water quickly after hatching, but won’t come above the surface to drink from a bowl.

Make sure that the water you use is chlorine-free. In some countries, cities have water that is perfectly fine for us humans but can harm bugs like millipedes. They add substances that keep the water quality good for us but are likely to harm, or even kill, your millipede.

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