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Giant African Millipedes are the largest of many species of millipede, calling the rainforests of Africa home.


Appearance

Giant African Millipedes have about 300 to 400 legs (four legs per segment, with 30 to 40 segments per millipede), unlike what its name suggests. Millipedes have weak jaws and cannot deliver a good bite, so instead it will coil into a ball and secrete a foul fluid (called repungnatorial fluid) from its body’s pores to defend themselves. It also has calcareous dorsal plates on its exoskeleton that act as body armor. Their body is rounded with dull colors, usually dark brown and black, ranging from 4-12 inches (10 to 30 centimeters). At the tip of their head, Giant African Millipedes have two antennae and simple eyes called “ocelli.”  They also have a single mouth or “maxilla.” The head segment of the millipede does not have any legs. Almost every segment of their body also has two pairs of internal organs. They breathe through tiny pore-like holes located down the length of their body, called spiracles, meaning they could drown if they get too wet.

Predator and Prey

Giant African Millipedes have to defend themselves against many predators including birds, small mammals, frogs, and various reptiles. Luckily, they have a few defense mechanisms to protect themselves.

These gentle giants are a type of organism called a detritivore, meaning they feed primarily on dead and decaying organic matter. Once their food is digested, they leave their nutrient rich waste or droppings along the forest floor, which is exteremly helpful for the environment.

Habitat

The Giant African Millipede calls the rain forests of subtropical western Africa home. They love warm, dark places on the rain forest floor, often found hiding under rotting matter and burrows where they can curl up and hide.

Reproduction

Reproducing and creating more millipedes is an important part of life in the rain forest. When the time comes to reproduce, a male giant African millipede will wind around a female millipede. A few weeks later, the female will lay hundreds of eggs in a hole in the ground. After about three months, during incubation period, the eggs will hatch, producing a huge group of young millipedes. The young are white with only a few segments and roughly three pairs of legs. The babies will molt their exoskeleton within the first 12 hours after hatching, and at least 7 to 10 more times as they grow over several years. Each time they molt, they earn new segments and legs.

Once a millipede hatches, it is on its own. There is no parental involvement and the millipede has to rely on itself to find food and shelter.

They can live up to 5 to 7 years.

Behavior

Giant African Millipedes are nocturnal, coming out to forage for food and explore the forest at night. During daytime, they will burrow into a safe place to rest.

Communication between millipedes are important. Giant African millipedes have poor eyesight, so their sense of touch seems to play an important role. They can feel with their antennae and their legs, and could possibly communicate by scent as well. They are not known to vocalize or make sound except the sound of hundreds of legs moving across the forest floor.

Conservation

Giant African Millipedes are currently doing well, meaning they are not in danger.

Gallery

Trivia

  • Giant African millipedes can smell and taste with all parts of their body.
  • Based on fossil records, scientists have discovered that millipedes were one of the first animals to colonize land, and could be found in many habitats around the world.
  • Millipedes have the ability to make new soil for the rain forest through their waste.
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