Millipedes are tame decomposers that reside in the clutter of leaves in gardens and forests throughout the planet.
Some interesting millipede facts are listed below:
- Millipedes do not have one thousand legs: The name millipede is derived from 2 Latin words, i.e. mil which means thousand and ped which means feet. Some individuals refer to these creatures as thousand leggers. However, both the names do not correctly describe these critters, as no millipede species has 1,000 legs. In reality, a majority of millipedes have fewer than 100 legs. The millipede species with the highest number of legs has 750 legs which is well short of the 1,000 legs benchmark.
- Each body segment of a millipede has two pairs of legs: This is the feature of millipede which distinguishes it from centipedes, and not the total set of legs. When a millipede is turned over, one can notice that nearly all the segments of its body consist of two pairs of legs. The first segments does not have any legs, while the leg numbers in segments 2 to 4 differ as per the millipede species. As opposed to this, each segment of a centipede body has only one pair of legs.
- Millipedes have just three pair of legs after hatching:Millipedes experience anamorphic development, wherein additional segments and legs get added to the body during the many shedding processes. A millipede hatchling has only six body segments and three pair of legs in the beginning. However, after it has fully matured, it will have numerous body segments and hundreds of legs. Millipedes are susceptible to attack by predators during the shedding process. Hence, molting is usually carried out below the ground, where they remain protected and hidden.
- Millipedes coil their bodies into a spiral when threatened: The back of a millipede is enclosed in hardened scales known as tergites. Its belly is however soft and exposed. Millipedes also do not have speed or agility to outrun their hunters. Hence, when it feels threatened, millipedes coil their body into a taut spiral, thereby guarding its underside.
- Some millipede species engage in chemical warfare:Millipedes are quite meek creatures. They cannot sting or bite, nor do they have pincers for fighting off predators. However, some millipedes have ozopores or stink glands that release a foul-tasting and smelly compound to ward off attackers. Still, some other millipede species emit chemicals that can cause skin blisters or burns. Hence, it is important to wash the hands after handling a millipede.
- Female millipedes are courted by males with back rubs and songs: A male millipede’s attempts to mate is usually taken up as a danger signal by the female millipede. Hence, it will tightly curl up and prevent the delivery of any sperm. In order to overcome this, the male millipede walks on her back trying to relax and loosen her, while gently massaging her body with hundreds of legs.Some species of male millipede can stridulate and make sounds that calms the female millipede. Still some other millipede species use sex pheromones to rouse the interest of a female.
- Special ‘sex’ legs known as gonopods are present in male millipedes:A male millipede uses specially altered legs to pass on his sperm packet or spermatophore onto a receptive female millipede, who receives it in her vulvae, located just after the second pair of legs. Most species of millipede have the gonopods on the seventh body segment. It is possible to differentiate a male millipede from a female by checking this segment. Male millipedes may have shortened stumps instead of normal legs, or the legs may be absent.
- The eggs are laid in nests by millipedes:The female millipede will dig the soil and create a nest where the eggs are laid. Often, the mother will use her own castings to create a protective enclosure for the offspring. In some cases, female millipedes may mold the nest by pushing the soil with the hind legs. As per the species, the female millipede will lay about 100 or more eggs in the nest. The eggs will hatch in about a month’s time.
- Millipedes have a life span of around 7 years: Arthropods generally tend to live for shorter durations. However, millipedes can live for up to seven years. The varied ways in which they camouflage and protect themselves allow them to outlive many other species of arthropods.
- Millipedes are thought to be one of the first animals to reside on land:There is fossil evidence which shows that millipedes were one of the first animals that moved from water to the land and breathed air.Pneumodesmus newmani is a fossil that was discovered in siltstone, Scotland. This fossil has been dated back to 428 million years, thereby making it the oldest fossil sample that consisted of spiracles which allowed the breathing in of air.