African Giant Millipede Fact File
African giant millipedes are coloured black. As one of the world’s largest millipedes they will grow up to 30.5cm (12in). This body is rounded and consists of 30 to 40 segments as an adult. Each segment has 4 legs apart from the head and tail segment which only have two. Their total number of legs varies between moults as they grow extra segments during each moult. In males, the 7th segment has a space between the legs which females lack.
On top of their head are antennae. These may be up to 12mm (0.47in) long.
Their large number of legs are not used to gain speed but instead to allow them to dig in to the soil
In the wild African giant millipedes are detritivores who break down rotting items on the forest floor. These may include logs or plants. They play a helpful role in their environment by breaking down decaying matter into nutrient rich soils.
They will also chew on rocks which are rich in nutrients such as calcium to maintain their exoskeleton.
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Africa is the native home of the African giant millipede. Here they can be found across subtropical west Africa.
On the forest floor where they live they will find a warm, dark place. Here they will make their way in to some rotting wood or another burrow to rest.
When it comes time for an African giant millipede to mate they will emit pheromones to attract a mate. After a pair find each other the male will walk alongside the female. If she is receptive to mating she will allow him to slip in underneath her and they will wrap around each other a few times.
A few weeks after a successful mating the female digs a hole in which she can deposit hundreds of eggs. It will be 3 months before the eggs hatch. Sometimes the mother will take care of the eggs till hatching.
Once they emerge from their eggs the hatchlings are on their own. They are born with just 3 of their pairs of legs and only a few of their body segments. As they grow they will undergo moults where the smaller skin is replaced with a larger one. With each shed they will gain extra pairs of legs and body segments.
It takes 7 to 10 moults before they are fully grown. The first of these occurs in the 12 hours following their birth.
After several years, they will reach maturity and breed for themselves.
African giant millipedes are nocturnal. At night, they will feed on the forest floor while the day sees them hiding out under a log somewhere.
This species is poorly sighted. As a result, they will communicate using touch. They can use their antennae and legs to feel other millipedes. They are also able to smell and taste with most of their body.
Defences against predators include an armour like exoskeleton which allows them to curl up in a ball and only expose a tough outer skeleton. This makes it difficult for predators to pick up. They can also secrete a fluid known as repungnatorial fluid. This foul-smelling substance is used to deter predators from hurting them.
Mites can be found living on the body of many African giant millipedes. These two species have a symbiotic relationship with the mites eating debris that is on their body.
African giant millipedes are the largest of the world’s millipedes.
By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
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