Monday, April 12, 2010


This millipede was found grazing on dead leaves in Pennsylvania. Unlike other many-legged arthropods like the centipedes, millipedes are slow moving herbivores. When they're bothered they are more likely to roll into a ball and hope you go away than to attempt an escape. A bite is really unlikely.
But if you enjoy the taste of millipede (and who doesn't?) be warned: some millipedes are capable of venting hydrogen cyanide through gaps in their chitinous exterior. Yup. Brewing and emitting poisonous vapours. For a human this is no big deal. It causes irritation, some discoloration of the skin. But to an ant or bird the gas would be a major deterrent. It's not surprising that millipedes have evolved some truly gnarly ways to defend themselves, since scientists believe that they were one of the first types of land creatures. That's a lot of time to evolve even the most outlandish and complex physiology.
Is this millipede that Wes and I caught capable of venting hydrogen cyanide gas? I don't know. There are like 1400 species of the damned things north of Mexico and I can't identify a single one. Did it vent gas at us when we picked it up? I don't remember, as we were drunk.

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