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Tag Archives: Millipedes as pets

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How to Care for African Giant Millipedes and Their Relatives

Millipedes (Order Diplopoda) are among the most diverse yet least studied of all invertebrates.  There are enough millipedes to keep generations of fans happy – over 12,000 species have been described so far, and we know little about most!  Many species make hardy pets that adjust well to small enclosures and may even breed. All are quite intriguing – while working with arboreal South American millipedes at the Bronx Zoo, I was even involved in a mysterious “millipede emergency”…please see this article  for details.


Photo uploaded to wikipedia commons by Bubba73 (Jud McCranie)

The following information can be applied to the commonly-kept African Giant Millipede (Achispirospreptus gigas) and many of the others that appear in the trade from time to time.  Several millipedes native to the USA, such as Narceus americanus, are also large and brightly-colored…all are ignored by zoos and deserve more attention from hobbyists.  Husbandry details will vary…please comment below for information on individual species. Read More »

Millipede Diets – Feeding the Giant African Millipede and its Relatives – Part 2

In  Part I of this article we looked at the importance of calcium, leaf litter and decaying wood in the diet of the African giant millipede (Achispirospreptus gigas) and its relatives.

Research Needed

Few field studies have been made of millipedes in the wild, and we therefore know little about their exact nutritional needs.  Based on experience with related species, Mating Millipedesand in the hopes of providing as many nutrients as possible, I began offering African giant millipedes a wide variety of food items.  With the help of colleagues here and abroad, I eventually arrived at a diet that has allowed me to breed a number of native and exotic millipedes, and to maintain individual animals for over 10 years.

A Useful Millipede Diet

In addition to leaf litter and wood (please see Part I of this article), I feed most millipedes a mixed salad of yam, carrot, kale, cucumber, apple, banana and a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables.  To this is added moistened insect gut-loading diet and tropical fish flakes, both of which supply necessary protein, and a bit of Forest Tortoise Food.

San Francisco Bay Prepared Tortoise Food is a convenient means of providing a wide variety of nutritious foods, and is readily accepted by many millipedes. I use this as an occasional supplement, or mix it into the regular salad.  All food offered is powdered with Reptocal.


A Millipede Emergency – the Dark Side of a Peaceful Terrarium Invertebrate – Part 2

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Please see Part I of this article  for my “close call” with some cyanide-producing millipedes.  

Millipede Generated Cyanide and Poison Frogs

 Harpaphe haydenianaIt seems that millipedes of many types (there are over 10,000 species described to date) mix hydrogen cyanide, quinones, phenols and aldehydes with enzymes to create toxic defensive sprays and secretions.  In fact, tiny millipedes consumed by poison frogs (Dendrobates spp.) account for some if not most of the virulent skin toxins found in the skins of these colorful amphibians. 

Much like the frogs, millipedes seem to obtain at least some defensive chemicals from their diet.  As is true with poison frogs and related species, the toxicity of the millipedes’ secretions decreases over time when they consume captive diets. 

Monkeys and People Draft Millipedes to Battle Pests

The monkeys studied by my friend (please see Part I) were using the millipedes as a mosquito and parasite repellent.  The millipedes seemed quite valuable to the monkeys – so much so that the normally arboreal primates left the safety of the tress to retrieve any millipedes that had been accidentally dropped.

Certain millipede secretions also have antibacterial properties, and are being investigated for medicinal use…it is not known if monkeys exploit this aspect of the toxins as well.

Millipedes as Pets

Millipede secretions can irritate our skin, mucus membranes and eyes, so I always caution people to handle them with gloves and Millipedeto keep the animals away from one’s face.  Stressed millipedes confined in airtight containers have been known to expire from the concentrated effects of their own toxins.

That being said, millipedes make extremely interesting terrarium subjects, and a number breed well in captivity.  Next time I’ll cover the care of a few regularly available species. 

Further Reading

Millipedes have other defensive tricks as well.  A tiny millipede native to Florida uses detachable bristles to disable ants and other predators.  Read more here.

Until then, please write in with your questions and comments. 


 Frank Indiviglio

Harapahe haydeniana image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Folini
Millipede image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Esculapio

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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