Animal Fact Sheets

GIANT AFRICAN MILLIPEDE

(Archispirostreptus spp.)
 

Classification and Range

There are over 1,000 species of millipede worldwide. Millipedes belong to the class Diplopoda, which has at least 15 recognized orders of millipedes. The giant millipede (Archispirostreptus spp.) belongs to the order Spirostreptida.

The giant milliped lives in both tropical and arid coastal forests of eastern Africa.

Habitat

Millipedes are found in all temperate and tropical regions of the world including caves, deserts, alpine zones, tree canopies and along shorelines. They rest and hide among leaf fall, soil, or rotting logs; most species of millipedes are nocturnally active./p>

Physical Characteristics

The giant millipede grows to a length of up to 12 inches (30 cm).

Life Span

Unknown in the wild; no research done. Five to 8 years old in captivity.

Diet

In the wild:Dead and decaying plant matter
At the zoo: Rotten fruits and vegetables

Reproduction

Mating season depends on the species of millipede. The male walks along the side of the female and stimulates her with rhythmic pulses of his legs. If receptive, she raises the front segments of her body, allowing the male to slip underneath her. After wrapping their entire bodies for about two turns, the pair unites their genitalia and the male deposits his sperm onto the female. She then transfers the sperm to her eggs.

Later, the female makes a small nest of compressed soil just below ground level. A few weeks after mating, the female lays hundreds of eggs in this nest. The eggs do not become fertilized until after laying, and are covered with a tough, resistant coating to protect them from predators and fluctuating environmental conditions. Sometimes the female will guard the eggs until they hatch; typically three months later. Young millipedes are abandoned after hatching, but grow quickly and reach maturity in three to 10 years. The larger the species, the longer it takes to mature.

Life Cycle

Millipedes are detrivores (animals which eat dead organic matter). Millipedes do not see well, so their antennae help them find dead organic matter and determine if it has decayed enough to eat. Since the exoskeleton of millipedes is composed of calcium, they also need to find the occasional small stone or pebble to chew on.

As a means of protection, millipedes have developed unique defense mechanisms for survival. One strategy is to curl up into a spiral. This coil protects the millipede's head and soft underside. Some species of millipedes can also secrete a foul-smelling/terrible tasting fluid through glands located alongside their body, near the legs on each segment. The toxicity of this fluid varies from species to species. For example, the excretions of some species can discolor human skin or irritate the eyes, others are corrosive, and some species even produce cyanide that can repel or kill insect predators.

Millions of Millipedes!

Although their name literally means "thousand-legged," most millipedes have no more than 300 legs. Millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment, and a mature millipede averages about 40-60 segments. Baby millipedes have only a few segments at birth, but grow quickly and add two to three segments each time they molt. Millipedes usually molt in a chamber underneath the surface of the soil. The chamber provides shelter and protection from predators during the molting process.

Which is Which?

One way to distinguish millipedes from centipedes is by the number of legs per segment. Centipedes have only one pair of legs per segment, and the legs emerge from the sides of each segment. The legs of millipedes emerge from underneath each segment. Also, millipedes move in a straightforward manner, while centipedes move in a snake-like serpentine pattern. Other differences are that millipedes are also herbivores and are usually round and cylindrical, while centipedes are carnivores, and appear flat and thin.

Location at the Zoo

Giant millipedes are periodically on display at Woodland Park Zoo's Bug World. You'll go "buggy" while viewing exciting seasonal displays that take you on a journey to different bioclimatic zones around the world. You may come face-to-face with recycling cockroaches, assassin bugs, web-spinning spiders or scuba diving beetles, to name only a few. The only way you'll find out which bugs you'll encounter is by visiting Bug World. Don't miss it!

Conservation Connection

Human-caused changes in land use are escalating, and this affects the natural habitat required by millipedes and other animals for survival. Vast forests are being removed for timber or other paper products, and industrial emissions are polluting water and air resources. Additionally, habitat is rapidly converted by expanding human communities and agricultural needs. It's only a matter of time until many insect species populations will become severely reduced, or eliminated.

Humans need insects. Often unnoticed, millipedes and other insects are essential for maintaining the balance in nature and health of the living world. Here are only a few of the benefits insects provide:

  • Bees, butterflies and other insects pollinate wild plants and our crops, ensuring the production of seeds and fruits required for the continued survival of plants and animals.
  • Earwigs, beetles and other insect scavengers clean up the environment by consuming decaying plants and animals. Nutrients are recycled back into the soil, helping future generations of plants to grow.
  • Many species of carnivorous beetles, ants and wasps eat other harmful insects that damage or destroy our crops and spread disease.
  • Burrowing insects aerate and enrich the soil.
  • Insects are a source of food for animals, including humans!
  • Insects produce products used by people, including honey, beeswax, silk and dyes, to name only a few.

 

How You Can Help!

The effort to save wildlife and habitat requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy animals or animal products made from wild-caught animals.

Contact Woodland Park Zoo at webkeeper@zoo.org to find out how you can support conservation efforts at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.

 

Giant Millipede Fascinating Facts

  • In northwestern forests, nearly every single deciduous and coniferous leaf that falls to the ground is shredded in the gut of the cyanide-producing millipede Harpaphe haydeniana before it even enters the soil ecosystem. Many of the nutrients that trees and other plants require cannot be absorbed by their roots until it passes through the gut of this particular millipede. Additionally, this recycled material satisfies the appetite of countless other mini-organisms!
  • The millipede with the most legs is the Illacme plenipes of California, with over 375 pairs of legs!

Sources and Suggested Reading

Alexander, R. McNeill. 1979. The Invertebrates. Cambridge, University Press, MA.

Brusca, R.C. and G.J. Brusca. 1990. Invertebrates. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA.

Hopkin, S.P. and H. Read. 1992. The Biology of Millipedes. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

For Kids!

Johnson, Jinny. 1996. Children's Guide to Insects and Spiders. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY. 80 p.

 
 
 
 

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