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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.

A Millipede Emergency: the Dark Side of a Peaceful Terrarium Invertebrate – Part 1

Having been chased by a Kodiak bear, confronted by an escaped king cobra and otherwise molested by scores of formidable animals, I felt relatively secure in accepting responsibility for a group of arboreal South American millipedes entrusted to me by colleague about to travel abroad. A primatologist, she had observed capuchin monkeys to rub millipedes over their bodies, and was investigating the situation (I, on the other hand, have always been far more interested in millipedes than monkeys!).

Deadly Millipedes?

A week after her departure, another coworker phoned me at 4 AM, frantically speaking in the rapid fire Spanish typical of her native Venezuela…and which I have great difficulty in grasping at 4 PM, much less 4 AM! Eventually I learned that 3 elderly millipede researchers had passed away recently, and that preliminary evidence indicated that cyanide poisoning, courtesy of the millipedes’ defensive chemicals, was suspected. I was warned against handling the millipedes (which I had been doing for weeks!) or putting them near my face (which I do not do with any creature).

The deaths turned out to be coincidental and unrelated to millipedes, but the incident led to a good deal of research into the defensive chemicals produced by these popular terrarium pets. It seems that millipede toxins are a very unique and complicated group of compounds.

Exploiting Millipede Toxins

Interestingly, a number of species of frogs and monkeys harness these chemical weapons for their own use. Although lagging behind such creatures by a few million years, humans are also getting into the act, and we may soon be putting millipede secretions to medicinal use.

An Amazing Coincidence!!!

The incident I related above, concerning myself and the millipedes, transpired approximately 8-10 years ago. I’m not sure why I decided to write about it today, but I’ve had millipede articles on my mind for some time, and thought this would make a nice introduction to the topic.

After writing this article I searched for a reference to add, for those readers who wished to learn more. You can imagine my shock when I discovered that today’s NY Times (28 June 2009) carries an article about the very same monkeys, people and millipedes involved in my story!!!

To read the entire article, please go to http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/05/science/05MONK.html?pagewanted=print.

Next time I’ll explore the nature of these defensive weapons and the uses that monkeys, frogs and people are finding for them. Following that we’ll take a look at keeping and breeding millipedes in captivity.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Prashanthns.


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