How many millipede species do you think live in southern Ohio? I estimated there were at least 50, maybe even 80 species. I was incorrect.
Millipedes are long and usually slow. They are mega-legged armored trains! Blindly feeling their way through the forest, they decompose leaf litter and use chemical warfare for protection.
|North American giant millipede pushing its way across the leaf litter.|
Not to be confused with centipedes, millipedes have 2 pairs of legs per body segment (centipedes have 1 pair). Millipedes do not bite using venom (centipedes do). Millipedes eat decaying plants (centipedes are carnivorous). Do not pick up a centipede or you may receive a painful pinch.
|Here you see a centipede showing its 1 pair of legs per segment. The first pair is adapted as pincers with venom.|
|Here a millipede shows its rounder body with 2 pairs of legs per segment. 1st pair are simply legs, not pincers.|
Earlier this spring, we hosted a millipede workshop taught by Derek Hennen. Derek has been re-writing The Millipedes and Centipedes of Ohio. This publication was printed in 1928 through the Ohio Biological Survey. He has been traveling the state updating records, adding species, and has spent some time collecting in Adams County. He was the perfect person to teach this class.
|Derek Hennen teaching millipedes to Advanced Naturalist Class.|
|Narceus americanus annularis, the North American giant millipede|
|Abacion sp., a common and very smelly millipede when handled.|
|Oxidus gracilis, the garden millipede is an exotic that can be found in very large numbers.|
|Pseudopolydesmus serratus, a fairly common millipede.|
Apheloria virginiensis corrugata, cherry millipede
Blaniulus guttulatus, spotted snake millipede
Narceus americanus annularis, North American giant millipede
Oxidus gracilis, garden/greenhouse millipede
Petaserpes cryptocephalus, slug millipede
Scytonotus granulatus, granulated millipede
One of the most fascinating parts of millipede life history is the chemistry involved with their protection. They are not ferocious creatures, they rely on distasteful and sometimes deadly gas exchange to keep predators at bay. Researchers have discovered many compounds are produced internally, with more yet to be identified. Even the sweet smelling cherry millipedes are not as pleasant as they smell. The odor they emit is cyanide.
|The sweet smelling cherry millipede, Apheloria virginiensis corrugata.|
|Apparently a Narceus did not want to be handled this day. It oozed a stain out of many pores that discolored my fingers for a week. Not painful, just colorful.|
|Euryrurus leachii under normal light.|
|Euryrurus leachii under UV (ultraviolet) light. Find these under logs with a black light at night.|
Photo by Robyn Wright-Strauss
|Pseudopolydesmus serratus found mating in September.|
|Not a millipede (notice the 3 pairs of legs), this Phengodes plumosa larva feeds on millipedes.|
|Glow worm beetle larva bioluminescing (glowing) in the dark. This millipede hunter produces light!|
|Glow worm larva sneaking in for the attack on a Narceus americanus. It is burrowing its way into the center of the millipede.|
Enjoy this video of a running millipede being chased by a predator (my camera) until all its legs get tired. At the end of the video is a cute hatchling of a North American giant millipede. The baby just hatched out of an egg which was enclosed in feces. The feces ball, looking like a cocoa puff, is full of nutrients the juvenile eats to begin its life.
Hopefully people admire the interesting millipedes they come across. Not only are they a major player in decomposing the debris around us, but they are also interesting and attractive. Even if their beauty is just a warning to stay away or you will be gassed. Since their fossil records date back 420 million years, they are quite possibly the first breathing animals on land. Now that deserves a little respect!
A big thanks to Derek Hennen for making the search for millipedes on our preserve so much fun.
Posted by: Mark Zloba