Friday 18 November 2011

Giant African Millipede

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There are a number of related species that get called African Giant Millipedes. They all share a lot in common, not least being great, big millipedes from Africa. Hence!

The largest of the lot is Archispirostreptus gigas, who can get over 30 centimetres (12 in) in length. That's quite striking! Especially with that sleek, black body over a million, billion tiny legs. Other species are even more startling, with head, antennae and legs of vibrant red.

Millipedes, even at this size, don't actually have a million legs, despite the name. They don't even have a thousand legs, which is what 'milli' actually means. Was this designed especially to confuse? A million is a milli x a milli. There are a milli millies in a million. How many millies must Milly mass to make a million? STOP!

200 to 300. That's how many legs these millipedes have managed to muster. That's enough! It all looks quite mesmerising as they walk along, like a never-ending game of pass the parcel.

Giant Millipedes are essentially harmless, with weak jaws used to chew through decaying vegetation and other soft, vegetable matter. When disturbed, they roll themselves up to protect their head and unending underbelly.

If that doesn't get the message across they can also secrete chemicals from pores along the length of their body. That's a lot of length, a lot of pores and a lot of chemical.

Moi non plus
This stuff is distasteful, stinky and can be painful to humans if it gets into cuts, eyes or mouth. It's quite harmless though, allergic reactions aside.

However, it's red and it can stain your skin for days, so it looks a lot worse than it is. (Note: fella in the link says it's cyanide. Some millipedes do indeed release cyanide, but I've seen little to suggest these giants do. Good, because that'd be a lot of cyanide!)

Males are distinguished from females by the 7th pair of legs, which are clawed and used to pass a packet of sperm to his mate. It's for the sake of the teeny tiny children, but I guess when you have that many legs at least a few of them are bound to get up to no good!

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