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The wonderful Millipede

It's OK to love Millipedes, as they are very cute, and are docile decomposers that live in the leaf litter of forests all over Hong Kong. You may also see large ones for sale in pet shops, as they can make excellent pets, and are completely safe. (But do not get them mixed up with Centipedes! See my blog on telling them apart)

Here are some fascinating facts that make millipedes unique.

Hmmmm, despite the name millipedes don't have 1,000 legs. The term millipede comes from two Latin words - mil, meaning thousand and ped meaning feet. But people have yet to find a millipede species with 1,000 legs. Most actually have less than 100 legs, try counting the next one you see. You will also see that millipedes have 2 pairs of legs per body segment, and it is this, and not the total number of legs, which separates the millipedes from the centipedes (which have just one pair of legs per segment).
Amazingly, these little creatures only have 3 pairs of legs when they hatch. How do they grow more? well, each time a millipede moults, it adds more body segments and legs. This is called anamorphic development.

Millipedes Coil Their Bodies Into a Spiral When Threatened

A millipede's back is covered by hardened plates called tergites, but its underside is soft and vulnerable. When a millipede feels it is in danger, it will coil its body into a tight spiral, protecting its belly. This however, can cause problems when they need to mate, as a female millipede will often take his attempts to mate with her as a threat. She'll curl up tightly, preventing him from delivering any sperm. The male millipede might walk on her back, convincing her to relax with the gentle massage provided by hundreds of his feet.

OK, new word alert:- Gonopods. These are the special "sex" legs that male millipedes use to transfer his spermatophore, or sperm packet, to her. She receives the sperm in her vulvae, just behind her second pair of legs.

Last, but not least, Millipedes were the first animals to live on land, with fossil evidence suggesting that millipedes were the earliest animals to breathe air and make the move from water to land. Pneumodesmus newmani, a fossil found in siltstone in Scotland, dates back 428 million years, and is the oldest fossil specimen with spiracles for breathing air.

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