My Favorite Millipede

I am fascinated by these many legged arthropods. Something about their exotic, otherworldly physiology, innate harmlessness, and unique locomotive skills captivates me every time. Here in the Northwest, as in most parts of the world, we have our share of these intriguing creatures and they come in a variety of shapes. The little type that looks similar to the roly poly pill bug that hides under rocks and leaf litter sits at one extreme while big five inchers prowl about bulldozing their way through deep forests. We have some unusually small species as well. The tiny Andrognathid family are often found under loose bark of our conifer trees. Seldom more than an inch long and glossy beige in color they can be mistaken for worms. We have a fast moving red millipede that could easily pass for a centipede at first glance, until you notice the telltale millipede characteristic of two legs per body segment. My favorite, however, is the Yellow Spotted millipede, Harpaphe haydeniana. Also referred to a Clown Millipede these distinctive Diplodas get to be about 2 inches long and are generally found in forest leaf litter or hiding under logs. They are well known for one very distinctive talent – it uses cyanide as a defense weapon. This kind of defense is not uncommon in millipedes but the Yellow Spotted millipede produces so much that it has a pronounced odor. Pick one up sometime and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t worry. It won’t hurt you to smell it. Just don’t try to eat the thing.


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