As humans, we take a lot of pride in how much we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time. We continually pat ourselves on the back for our achievements, and overall greatness as human beings. But there comes a point where we need to realize that we aren’t the Alpha and the Omega, and certainly not the Alpha; this world has long been teeming with societies that can boast accomplishments we can only see in a magnifying glass.
These miniature societies have managed to survive and outlast creatures thousands times bigger than themselves. These societies can, more often than not, be classified as arthropods, identified by their jointed bodies and multiple legs. But none has more legs than the almighty millipede. Here is a closer look at “the arthropod with a thousand legs.”
10. They Don’t Actually Have 1,000 Legs
“Millipede,” meaning “thousand feet,” is actually a misnomer, as no known millipede actually has that many. This is a bit disappointing, at least for fans of miniature legs. The closest to the 1000 mark is a rare species found in California called Illacme plenipes, which can have as many as 750 little kickers. Typically, though, millipedes have about 36 and 400 legs, which makes you wonder: what actually distinguishes a centipede from a millipede? Good question.
9. Centipede vs. Millipede
Centipedes typically move much quicker than the slow-crawling millipedes and contain only one pair of legs per segment, compared to the millipede, which has two pairs per segment (its individual segments are actually a fusion of two different ones). Also, centipedes tend to be a little flatter and have longer legs (and more leg room, so to speak). They look more like really long beetles, while millipedes look more like gooey trams.
8. Some Are Carnivorous
Most millipedes are herbivores, feeding on dead plant life or organic materials, but a few have a bloodthirsty pair of mandibles. While anything bigger than themselves is left off the menu (what a relief), they sometimes feast on centipedes, earthworms and other tiny arthropods and insects. Okay, so they aren’t exactly slaughtering billygoats but, proportionally speaking, they might as well be.
7. It Is The Oldest Known Land Creature
Living in the late Silurian period, about 428 million years ago, the species Pneumodesmus newmani was a centimeter-long millipede species, and the oldest known living land creature. Discovered in 2004 by a bus driver in Scotland, the fossil through which this species is known today provides evidence of early oxygen-breathing life. This was determined through visible “spiracles,” which are pores connected to a respiratory system by which airborne oxygen is obtained, as opposed to a kind of underwater conversion system.
6. Largest Known Species Was The Arthropleura
Existing back in the Upper Carboniferous period, about 300 million years ago, these ancestral arthropods could be as big as eight feet and six inches, which is really approaching snake territory. They were able to grow so big die to a lack of life-threatening predators, as well as how much oxygen was contained in the Earth’s atmosphere back then. Eventually they became extinct, after the environment started becoming more arid, and less oxygen-rich, during the Permian period. Today, millipedes tend to be between .079 and 11 inches. Far less monstrous.
5. Males “Set The Mood” For Their Mates
While it might be too human of a characteristic for a female millipede to become standoffish at the first hint of a male making a sexual advance, they will do just that, coiling up as if they were being attacked. So the relentless male will pull out all the tricks he apparently learned from reading Neil Strauss’ How to Be a Player; the male will rub the back of the female with his many legs as well as “stridulate” (in which he emits a calming sort of mood music), until the female has been successfully coaxed into submission. Some males even emit pheromones, which would be their version of sexy cologne. That, however, is where the human likeness ends.
4. They Have Sex Like Robots
These creatures reproduce like they’re making a bank transaction; the male carries sperm “packets”, which it transfers to the female via genitals (and as many as two penises) located on its third segment. The female accepts and stores the deposits into pores, that have a sort of safe-lock lid, which cover its vulva. The female can lay between 10 and 300 eggs in a single session, using the sperm as a fertilizer. Laid in soil or a nest of dry excrement, eggs can hatch in a matter of weeks.
3. They Aren’t Born With All Their Segments
They are actually born with only three leg pairs and four “blank” segments, in you will. Segments are continually added as the millipede ages, molts, and sheds its exoskeleton. For segmentally well-endowed species, you can imagine this process must become tedious after a while. Imagine having to take off a new pair of pants every time you want to grow a few inches. And then imagine eating those pants. Yes, you read that correctly; most millipedes eat their successfully molted exoskeleton when they are finished shedding.
Millipedes protect themselves by one of two means. They can coil themselves up, like a slimy sort of cinnamon roll. This keeps their tender undersides shielded by their rigid exteriors. Another way they ward off predators is by secreting a toxic liquid, or hydrogen cyanide gas, from their pores. Such a substance is only a mild irritant to humans, but can burn the exoskeleton of ants, or the eyes and skin of larger animals. Some monkeys have even been caught rubbing the substance on themselves as an effective bug spray.
1. Giant African Millipede is the Largest Living Species
This species has a propensity for being excessively large, and the Guinness Book of World Records sets the biggest of its kind at 15.2 inches. This creature, resembling an overcooked sausage, tends to dwell in low-level forests in East Africa. So if you are arthrophobic, or just hate things with upwards of 256 legs, you know exactly where not to place a sleeping bag during your African holiday.