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Millipede Diets – Feeding the Giant African Millipede and its Relatives – Part 1

Among the world’s 10,000 or so millipede species we find a number of common as well as extremely specialized creatures, many of which make interesting terrarium subjects. The commonly available giant African millipede (Achispirospreptus gigas) is, at nearly 11 inches long, a very impressive beast that may reach 10 years of age and reproduce in captivity.  A number of other species appear in the trade from time to time as well…while the largest hail from the tropics, several millipedes native to the USA, such as Narceus americanus, are also quite large, and some are brilliantly colored.

The following information applies mainly to the African giant millipede, but also holds true for many of the other large African and Southeast Asian species that enter the trade.

A Simple but Effective Feeding Technique

Judging from the questions I’ve received from millipede enthusiasts over the years, a poor diet is the main reason that these creatures sometimes fail to thrive in captivity.

One trick that I have found particularly useful is to add a handful of a reptile calcium supplement, such as Reptocal to the substrate in a millipede terrarium.  Millipedes consume a good deal of leaf litter and, in some cases, rotting wood, and will ingest calcium mixed into the litter as well.  They seem to require quite a bit of calcium, especially when molting and forming a new exoskeleton, so I powder their other food with it also.

Leaf Litter and Wood

In order to provide as much dietary variety as possible, I always keep millipedes in a substrate comprised of at least 50% leaf litter (oak, ash and other native species) and well-rotted (soft and crumbly) wood collected locally.  This is replaced periodically as the millipedes tunnel through and consume the nutrients therein.

The balance of the substrate consists of coconut husk  and top soil.  Millipedes need to burrow, especially when laying eggs and molting, so keep at least 4-6 inches of substrate available to them.  A layer of gravel at the terrarium’s bottom will assist in drainage.

Dietary Variety

As we know little about the actual nutritional needs of any millipedes, I strive to provide as much variety as possible.  This seems a useful technique, as I’ve been able to breed several tropical and native species over the years, and have kept individual millipedes for over a decade.  Please check out Part II of this article for salad recipes and other foods that have served me well over the years when keeping millipedes.


Further Reading

Please see my article Millipede Emergency for a unique twist to millipede keeping.


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      Hello Mark, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Millipedes do take a bit of work, but there are some rewards – some have been bred over several generations, teaching us a great deal in the process.

      The mites commonly seen on millipedes are almost always harmless and feed upon organic material that sticks to the millipede and droppings, shed skins, etc., They usually arrive via terrarium substrate, logs, etc., or on the millipedes themselves. They can be controlled by swabbing the millipede with a bit of cornstarch-based body powder, which causes desiccation but in small amounts does not harm the millipede. Parasitic mites are rarely if ever seen on millipedes.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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    my giant african millipede has a white residue in between his body segments of his last 4-5 inches. Is there something wrong with him or do i just need to keep his tank more humid?

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      Hello Ashley, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog.

      Millipedes release irritation chemical secretions when they are disturbed – some monkeys and birds rub millipedes on themselves as a type of “insecticide”! Always be sure to wash well after handling a millipede, as these secretions can irritate eyes, cuts and other membranes – latex gloves are the best protection.

      You may be seeing the dried residue from such a secretion, or perhaps a chemical lain down by the millipede to attract a mate. If the exoskeleton has been cut or damaged, body fluids leaking out could also leave a residue (this not likely if the millipede is feeding, acting normally).

      It’s not likely related to moisture, but in any event the terrarium’s humidity should be kept high.

      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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