Famous for their ability to curl into a tight coil whenever threatened, millipedes are among the oldest known land animals – fossil evidence shows they have been around since 450 million years ago. Thanks to their unique physical features, millipedes belong to the Myriapoda subphylum, which also includes centipedes and other multi-legged creatures. Although not dangerous to humans, millipedes can be a nuisance, especially as household or garden pests, and can also damage growing seedlings. Here are more lesser-known millipede facts to make your day.
1. There Is a Millipede Species Named After Taylor Swift
An entomologist recently named a newly-found millipede species after megastar and music icon Taylor Swift. According to a study published in the Zookeys Journal, the new species is called Nannaria swiftae or Swift twisted-claw millipede. Derek Hennen, the lead study author and a self-proclaimed Swiftie, said the musician had inspired him through tough times, hence the honor.
2. Millipedes Are Hatched Without Legs
Given that they are popular for having many legs, it’s interesting to learn that millipedes are hatched as legless larvae. After molting and gaining different segments, they develop their first set of legs. From there, depending on the species, the millipedes can grow to have over a thousand legs (as recently revealed).
3. Millipedes Once Caused a Train Crash in Australia
In 2013, a train in Western Australia crashed for a rather bizarre reason. According to reports, the train was trying to pull into a station but could not – too many squashed millipedes were on the track. Apparently, the fluids from the crashed millipedes resulted in the train losing traction because of reduced friction, eventually causing the accident.
4. The Pink Dragon Millipede Can Release a Chemical Smelling Like Almonds When Threatened
Sometimes referred to as dragon millipede, the pink dragon millipede (Desmoxystes purpurosea) derives its name from its vivid pink color. However, its most striking feature is its ability to produce hydrogen cyanide that protects it from predators. Interestingly, when the millipede’s glands produce this chemical, it smells like toasted almonds.
5. There Is a Millipede Species with More Than 1,000 Feet
While millipedes are widely regarded as the species with a thousand feet, most rarely have so many legs – some have less than 100. It wasn’t until 2020 that scientists discovered the Eumillipes persephone millipede species with over 1,300 legs. Before that, a millipede with 750 legs held the record for the millipede with the most feet; there are about 12,000 millipede species worldwide.
6. Lemurs Get High By Chewing on Millipedes
Besides recoiling, millipedes release toxins that cover their external bodies when attacked. Lemurs tend to chew on millipedes because the toxins make them high. Additionally, the lemurs can rub millipedes deep in their fur because the toxins can be suitable insecticides.
7. You Can Buy Giant African Millipedes In the United States But Can’t Import Them
In the United States, buying and keeping giant African millipedes is legal as long as they are from the country. Importing millipedes is illegal because of the invasive mites that they carry. The same policy applies in Canada.
8. Tanzania Has One of the Biggest and Scariest Millipede Species
Scientifically known as Crurifarcimen vagans, the wandering leg sausage is one of the biggest and scariest millipede species. It is endemic in Tanzania, where it is common in the region’s Usambara Mountains. Since adults can grow to 16 centimeters long and 16 millimeters wide, the wandering leg sausage is second only to the giant African millipede. It was first formally described in 2011.
9. Hornbills Use Crushed Millipedes to Line the Cavities of Their Nests
Scientists have in the past observed that hornbills use crushed millipedes to line the cavities of their nests. It is believed that this helps to keep away mites and other similar infestations – millipedes have toxins that can be used as insecticides.
10. Millipedes Have Interesting Mating Structures
Millipedes have fascinating and diverse mating structures and styles. Male millipedes have unique “mating legs” called gonopods that deposit spermatophores to the females during copulation. Different species have varying gonopods location, with the majority placed at their bodies’ rears. In most species, copulation happens with the mating partners facing each other.
11. Some Male Millipedes Sing for their Female Mates Before Copulation
During the mating season, some male millipedes “sing” for their female counterparts to woo them into copulation. Walking on the backs of females as if to massage them is also another interesting tactic that the males use.
12. Brightly Colored Millipedes are Toxic to Predators
Most millipede species are brown or black in color. However, others come in bright colors, such as pink and red. As the thumb rule dictates, the brightly colored ones are usually toxic; their appearance is a warning to their predators. Millipede predators include birds, badgers, shrews, beetles, ants, assassin bugs, and frogs.
13. Millipedes Could Get Really Big In the Past
Of the fossils discovered over time, historians believe millipedes could get very big in the past. For example, the Arthopleura armata species could grow up to 8 feet long and 20 inches wide around 3000 million ago. This is way taller than most average humans can achieve in modern times.