Giant African Millipede


Lifespan: Up to seven years.

Wild Diet: Decomposing plant and animal matter

Zoo Diet: Salad greens

Predators: Lizards, frogs, scorpions and birds


IUCN Status: Not Evaluated.

Habitat/Range: Found under rocks, in moist soil and thorughout decomposing matter in rainforests throughout Africa.

Characteristics: Giant African millipedes are among the largest millipedes in the world. They are brilliant black with reddish brown legs. The head bears a pair of antennae, a pair of jaws and simple eyes (ocelli) on each side. The segments, except for the first four and the last one or two posterior ones, bear two pairs of jointed legs. They can grow to be 12 inches long. Their elongated body is rounded, not flattened. It uses its strong, stiff, body segments and many legs to push itself through soil and leaf-litter. Millipedes have a slow gate, gliding over the ground with successive waves of movement passing along the rows of legs. Millipedes rely primarily upon scent and touch. Simple eyes merely detect light/shade.

Behavior: One means of defense is a noxious secretion, composed mostly of quinines and hydrochloric acid, produced by two rows of stink glands along the sides of its body. This substance, capable of repelling or killing insects, also discourages most birds and other predators from eating them. They also coil up when disturbed, similar to the behavior of sowbugs or pillbugs.

Millipedes are usually restricted to moist places where they feed on organic matter. Life in the soil for all millipedes poses many hazards. There may be periods of drought or flooding. Surface layers can be sizzling hot or freezing cold. Millipedes are not waterproof. Tthey breathe through spiracles (openings leading from the exoskeleton to tubes called tracheae) that cannot be closed. It would be easy for them to dehydrate or to drown. They must constantly monitor their habitat and through their behavior, seek out suitable living conditions. They may burrow deeper into the ground to escape summer droughts or winter frost, or crawl to the surface and even climb vegetation when the soil becomes waterlogged.

Feeds mainly on decaying plant matter unpalatable to other animals. Important scavengers playing a key role in the recycling of nutrients, makes them a valuable organism for the environment. By breaking down dead leaves and other plant parts, millipedes facilitate the actions of other smaller soil decomposers, such as bacteria.

Reproduction: Sexes are separate, generally solitary. Reproductive organs are located at the front of the body with openings behind the second pair of legs. Males have specially modified legs (on the 7th segment) used to collect their own sperm and to transfer it into the female. Most species lay batches of 25-30 eggs in the ground, hatching into larvae usually having three pairs of legs. Millipede eggs have a tough coating and are deposited in nests in the soil. Young millipedes have fewer segments than the adult, but they add three or more segments at each molt of the outer shell, or exoskeleton. Molting leaves the body soft and vulnerable until the new layer hardens. Molting occurs 7-10 times before maturity. All together, millipedes spent about 10% of their lives in molts. Young millipedes mature the second year after hatching. Most millipedes are secretive and nocturnal, rarely exposing themselves to danger. They are at risk from dehydration unless they remain in moist and dark places.

Conservation: Giant African millipedes have a stable population in the wild and in captivity, where they are often kept as pets. Responsible pet owners should ensure that their millipedes are bred in captivity and are not exported from the wild.