How millipedes multiply
What do millipedes look like?
Millipedes belong to the "Tracheata" sub-tribe, which also includes insects. That means that they - like all insects - have trachea as respiratory organs.
Trachea are tiny tubes that lead from their body armor inside and supply the whole body with air.
Millipedes belong to the arthropod tribe. What all millipedes have in common is that their body consists of many similar body sections - the so-called segments.
Pairs of legs, which are also made up of several sections, sit on these segments.
The name millipedes is an exaggeration: Depending on the species, they have between eight and a maximum of 340 pairs of legs, for a maximum of 680 legs in total. The mouthparts and two eyes sit on the capsule-shaped head. Many millipedes have - like most arthropods - two antennae on their heads.
The color of the millipedes differs depending on the species: they can be gray, brownish, black or almost white.
Where do millipedes live?
Millipedes are found almost everywhere in the world: They live from temperate climates to the tropics - this is where the largest specimens can be found.
All millipedes are rural dwellers.
But they need a moist habitat in order to survive.
That is why they are mainly found in moist soil, for example in the undergrowth of the forest, in rotten wood, in the garden, in compost or under bark.
What types of millipedes are there?
So far, over 8000 different species of millipedes are known. In reality, there are many more types. With every expedition, researchers find new, as yet unknown and unexplored millipedes.
How do millipedes live?
Millipedes usually live hidden in the ground or in the layer of plants on top.
Similar to earthworms, they eat and digest dead plant parts, from which valuable, fertile humus is created. That is why they are so important to nature.
Up to 2000 millipedes can live in one cubic meter of soil. However, some species also nibble on healthy plants and thereby damage them.
Millipedes still pose a lot of puzzles to researchers: For example, one doesn't know for sure whether the many different species that exist are really as closely related as it looks at first glance.
There are several groups of millipedes, which usually differ in the number of body segments and pairs of legs.
The brush feet, for example, are among the smallest: They are only two to five millimeters long. Unlike the rest of the millipedes, their bodies are soft and do not have a hard shell.
The bipedes, on the other hand, are a very old group of animals that existed in ancient times, around 400 million years ago. They have two body segments fused into one; therefore, there are two pairs of legs on one segment. Only the first segment has no pair of legs, and the second to fourth only one pair of legs each. Some of them are blind, others have two eyes that are made up of many individual eyes.
Another important group are the bandworts. They are blind and the back half of each body segment has a wing-like appendage on which are glands that emit antibodies against enemies.
Another group are the pinnipeds: Their bodies are round and they have many segments, a maximum of about 121. The largest representatives of the pinnipeds are found in the tropics: They are as fat as a human finger.
The puntipede have only a few pairs of legs: there are only nine to eleven.
The dwarf pods are particularly small: they walk with only twelve pairs of legs, but like the insects they have three pairs of mouthparts. Centipedes also have three pairs of mouthparts. Depending on the species, they have between 15 and 171 pairs of legs, the number of pairs of legs is always odd. They include the largest millipedes: they can grow to be up to 22.5 centimeters long.
By the way: The millipedes that we find here are mostly the brown stone walkers. They also belong to the centipedes.
Friends and enemies of the millipede
Millipedes are protected by their shell, but they are still eaten by birds and reptiles.
Some millipedes have chemical defenses that they use to scare away enemies.
Some enemies do not mind these substances, but others lose their appetite for millipedes forever when they have one in their mouth for the first time: The bandfeeds, for example, produce highly toxic hydrogen cyanide and thus protect themselves from their enemies. The pinnipeds produce chemical substances that irritate the skin and mucous membranes and can trigger allergies.
How do millipedes reproduce?
The mating organs are located in the millipedes pretty far forward on the body. In the male, they sit on the hips of the second pair of legs. From there it picks up the semen with the specially designed legs of the seventh segment - the mating feet - and transfers it to the female.
This lays eggs from which larvae hatch. The larvae only have a few body segments and accordingly few pairs of legs.
In order to grow, they have to shed their skin regularly and shed their old, too small armor.
With each molt, the larvae get more body segments until they finally reach their final number.
What do millipedes eat?
Most millipedes are vegetarians.
They feed on dead plant parts, fruits and algae that grow on plants, on tree bark and in the ground.
But sometimes they also eat dead animals. However, some millipedes are also predators and primarily prey on insects.
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