Friday, January 4, 2013

Creature Feature: Millipedes

Or gongolo, as the Virgin Island locals call them. We were hiking on St. John, traversing a dry forest area, when Chris noticed one of these millipedes on a tree. Then we noticed another. And another…and another…and—you get it. They were everywhere! Nearly four inches long, they were all curled up like not-so-little question marks. Millipedes, though worm-like in appearance, are arthropods, so related to things like insects and crustaceans. And despite the name (milli~thousand), they don’t have a thousand legs, though it may seem like it. This particular species is called Rhinocricus arboreus, the arboreus part of the name referring to its penchant for inhabiting trees. We wondered about this; the critters were right out in the open, an apparently free lunch for any bird flying by. But according to a document I found online, when disturbed, this species secretes a brown fluid that’s distasteful to potential predators. This fluid, which smells like iodine and stains the skin, is not generally harmful to humans, though in some it may
cause a skin reaction, especially if it gets in your eyes. No problem with that, because we had no desire to pick them up. Millipedes are nocturnal herbivores and scavengers, generally feeding in leaf litter. We kind of creeped ourselves out wondering what it would sound like with all those hundreds of legs skittering around the ground…at night…in the dark…


  1. We had lots of these in our apartment in South Korea. The cats must have liked the crunchy outer shell because they ate them all the time...and then threw them right back up.

  2. Oh, that's disgusting! The only thing worse than finding a millipede in my house would be a post-chewed-and-vomited millipede!