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10 Incredible facts about millipedes

Red giant African millipede at Pongola Game Reserve South, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The unusually brightly coloured reddish-pink giant African millipede found in Pongola Game Reserve © White Elephant Safari Lodge

The giant African millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas), is one of the largest millipedes around, and recently an unusually brightly coloured reddish-pink specimen was discovered on Pongola Game Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. The bright colouration could possibly be a deterrent to keep predators at bay.

The folks at White Elephant Safari Lodge took some great photos and shared with us some fascinating facts about millipedes:

• The indigenous people of southern Africa named the millipede “shongololo”. When the first trains arrived in southern Africa, they were referred to as “shongololos” due to the similarity in shape and movement of the trains and millipedes.

• 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.

Red giant African millipede at Pongola Game Reserve South, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

© White Elephant Safari Lodge

• There are about 12,000 known species of millipedes!

• Millipedes have a variety of defence mechanisms. They can release a foul-smelling toxin to deter most predators or curl up into a tight ball to protect their soft underparts. As a result, they have very few enemies, with the exception of shrews and civets.

• When disturbed, millipedes escape predation by moving away in a slithering, snake-like motion, which may scare off some predators.

• Some primates intentionally disturb millipedes to obtain the foul-smelling toxins and rub it on their bodies as a mosquito repellent.

Red giant African millipede at Pongola Game Reserve South, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

© White Elephant Safari Lodge

• Millipedes are some of the oldest land animals on Earth. The first millipede, Pneumodesmus newmani, was only 1 cm long and appeared 428 million years ago during the Silurian Period.

• Some extinct prehistoric millipedes (Arthropleura spp.) grew up to 2 metres in length!

• The longest living millipede is the giant African millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas), reaching a length of up to 38.5 cm.

• In regards to the red-coloured millipede found in Pongola Game Reserve – the red colour most likely serves as aposematic colouration, to warn or repel predators. It is not yet known whether these red millipedes are an entirely different species or a colour variation of the common species.

Red giant African millipede at Pongola Game Reserve South, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

© White Elephant Safari Lodge



White Elephant Lodge

White Elephant Lodge located in the Pongola Game Reserve, is the only lodge in South Africa to offer Kariba-like, water based safari activities (motorised and canoeing) as well as the traditional land based activities. Safari Lodge captures the history and romance of a bygone era.

Africa Geographic