Overview

Distribution

Geographic Range

Millipedes are found all over the world, and are most diverse in the humid tropical regions.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

These invertebrates have long thin bodies made of many segments, protected by an exoskeleton. Each segment has two pairs of legs. They have a pair of antennae on their head, and chewing mouthparts. Most have glands along their body that make toxic compounds to discourage predators. Most millipedes are darkly colored, but some very toxic ones are bright.

Other Physical Features: bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Ecology

Habitat

Millipedes live on land, but they need to live in moist places, and most live in forested areas (though there are plenty in grasslands and other habitats too)

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: taiga ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Millipedes eat dead plant material. They have bacteria and other microbes in their digestive system that helps them break down the dead leaves and other foods they eat. They sometimes eat the dung of herbivores.

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Millipedes can be important decomposers, especially in tropical forests.

Ecosystem Impact: biodegradation

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Predation

Millipedes can't run fast, so they have protection. They curl up to protect their legs, and they give off toxic chemicals to poison their predators or at least taste bad.

Known Predators:

  • Soricidae
  • Aves
  • Squamata
  • Araneae
  • Formicidae
  • Coleoptera
  • Anura

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Animal / parasite / endoparasite
larva of Hymenolepis scalaris endoparasitises Diplopoda

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / dung saprobe
colony of Umbelopsis ramanniana is saprobic in/on dung or excretions of dung of Diplopoda

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Known predators

  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Known prey organisms

Diplopoda (millipede) preys on:
detritus
Eleutherodactylus coqui
Orthoptera
Auchenorrhyncha
Sternorrhyncha
fungi
Plantae
roots

Based on studies in:
USA: New Jersey (Agricultural)
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • D. J. Shure, Radionuclide tracer analysis of trophic relationships in an old-field ecosystem, Ecol. Monogr. 43(1):1-19, from p. 15 (1973).
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Millipedes have very poor vision. They probably communicate with touch and smell. A few species glow in the dark, probably to warn predators that they are poisonous.

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Life Cycle

Development

Millipedes don't change their structure much as they grow. Babies look like small adults. As they grow they shed their exoskeleton to make more room.

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Reproduction

Not much is known about millipede reproduction. In most species, females mate with males, then lay eggs.

Breeding season: probably spring and summer

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; parthenogenic ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous ; sperm-storing

In some millipede species, one parent or the other guards the eggs. Females also sometimes make special nests for their eggs when they lay them.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; male parental care ; female parental care

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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Many legs provide thrust for burrowing: millipede
 

The many short legs of a millipede provide thrust for burrowing as the leg movements follow a wave along the body.

     
  "A millipede advances along a twig. Although renowned for the number of their legs, even the longest millipedes have only about 680 legs, and most species have far fewer. You might expect that an animal with so many legs would move very fast, but the millipede's legs are so short and its fat body so close to the ground that its legs take only short strides at a time. Nevertheless, they can deliver considerable thrust, and millipedes are strong enough to burrow into the ground very efficiently…The leg movement of the millipede occurs in a wave along the body: certain groups of legs are moving forwards as others are thrusting backwards. At any given time there are always some legs in contact with the ground at intervals along its body." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:45)

Watch Video
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
                                        
Specimen Records:2,028Public Records:817
Specimens with Sequences:1,367Public Species:122
Specimens with Barcodes:1,303Public BINs:194
Species:200         
Species With Barcodes:146         
          
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Barcode data

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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Diplopoda

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