Tracking millipedes

Walking through indigenous rainforest in Africa always delivers unexpected surprises.

In picture is a “shongololo” or millipede found in abundance across southern Africa. There are close to 12,000 millipede species in the world.

the name “millipede” is derived from Latin, meaning “thousand feet”. However, no known species has that many legs, and the record for the most legs on a millipede species belongs to Illacme plenipes, who has 750 feet.

Their primary defence mechanism is to release a foul-smelling toxin, which is made up of hydrochloric acid (which burns) and hydrogen cyanide (which asphyxiates). This keeps most predators at bay, except for shrews and civets, which appear to be immune to these toxins. Millipedes also curl up into a tight ball when threatened, to protect their soft underparts.

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