Posted by: Ross Gardner | March 23, 2014

Millipedes

The miracle of a myriad myriapods moving meticulously among the mild, moist mulch.  That’s my first attempt at composing a tongue twister – I’m not sure if it’ll catch on quite as well as “she sells sea shells on the sea shore” or that other one about relieving pheasants of their feathers.

The Myriapoda is that group of arthropods that includes, among others, the centipedes and millipedes.  It is the latter that has in particular pricked my imagination just lately.  Both have their similarities.  They of course both sport many pairs of legs and both are without the waterproofing cuticle possessed of insects and are thus susceptible to moisture loss and therefore dependent of damp and dark conditions.  The principal way of telling the two groups apart is the fact that centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment, to a millipedes two (although this is apparently something of an illusion resulting from millipedes having fused body segments), giving the latter an altogether more copiously-legged appearance.  Millipedes can often appear more cylindrical, certainly compared to flattened Lithobius centipedes, although beware the Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmus).  And no, in spite of their name, no species of millipede has 1000 legs.

I have long been impressed by the shiny brown Lithobius  centipedes that maraud the other small invertebrates of the damp, dark places.  Creatures whose livelihood depends of their predatory success and yet , perhaps only possessing the ability to tell light from dark, are otherwise quite blind and do all their hunting by means of speed and a phenomenal sense of touch and vibration.  With no need for the chase the herbivorous and detritivorous millipedes are altogether more sedate, but no less intriguing creatures.  It was the chance brushing away of a patch of leaf-litter while out walking in a wood that lead to my meeting the specimen in picture.  A few square centimetres of litter and I happen open this creature.  How many in that small wood of no more than 4 or 5 hectares are munching their way through the woodland detritus, keeping the great wheel turning?

Millipede (Cylindrosurus).  Copyright 2014 Ross Gardner

Millipede (Cylindrosurus). Copyright 2014 Ross Gardner

 

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