Giant Millepede

Name: Giant Millipede
Scientific name: Archispirostreptus spp. 
Range: southeast of Niger Delta, into Cameroon and Gabon
Status: Not uncommon
Diet in the wild: Leaves
Diet in the zoo: cucumbers, apples
Location in the zoo: James R. Record Aquarium

Physical description: 

  • Length: 6-81/2 inches long
  • Width (cross-section): About the size of a nickel 
  • Head is insect like with antennae
  • Color is dull, flat black 
  • Appear to have two sets of legs for each segment - "million leggers"
  • Eyes are found on head, like an insect
  • Can be found in several colors

General information:

There seems to be disagreement about the correct scientific name for giant African millipedes.  Dr. Richard Hoffman of the Virginia Museum of Natural History is the man who identified it.  He identified it just before the first World War and, back then, people did not make distinctions between holotypes (the original references species associated with the name), allotypes (a reference species of the sex opposite to that of the holotype) , and paratypes (additional specimens used to represent the species).  The "giant African millipede" is variously identified as Scaphiostreptus spp, Lules spp. and Archispirostreptus species.  Identification of the species of a particular millipede often depends on the location from which it was collected.  The animals at the Fort Worth Zoo have been assigned to the genus Archispirostreptus. 

Special anatomical, physiological
or behavioral adaptations:

The giant millipede has an interesting body structure.  It is composed of a large number of segments that appear to be similar.  These segments have a large overarching tergite.  The segments also have two small, concealed ventral portions, the sternites.  A pair of legs is associated with each sternite and this gives the millipede its "million legged" look.

Comments about the millipedes of the Fort Worth Zoo:

The giant millipede has an interesting defense mechanism.  The millipedes secrete a liquid that is made up of hydrochloric acid.  This may be harmful to its predators, but not to humans.  This defense mechanism is rarely used, usually if it is dropped or pinched.  The more common defense position is for the millipede to coil into a tight spiral.
Baby millipedes are said to be coprophagous, or they eat the dung of their parents.  This may sound gross but remember - these are millipedes!  This helps the baby millipedes in two ways.  First it makes the food easier to swallow.  Second, the bacteria in the stomach of the adult are transferred to the stomach of the young.  This may help with digestive process.

Personal Observations:

The giant millipede does not look like a worm, which I originally thought it would.   Instead the head is insect-like and their bodies can be wide.  They are long and slow-moving.  The glass case they are kept in can become foggy due to the moisture in the case.  Large pieces of food are put in to the case and yet they manage to eat the food with such small mouths.

Source Materials and Related Links:

Page author:{short description of image}Jamie Bumpas

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