They don’t sting, bite, destroy crops, invade homes or bother humans in any way, but the millipede is one of the most prolific inhabitants of the High Country — and the one neighbor that you probably don’t know much about.
A few weeks ago, I was exploring an off-trail area when I slipped on a wet patch of moss. The terrain was steep and slick. I tumbled for a good 50 feet before I was stopped by the soft belly of a decaying old log.
My adrenaline was going full force and I found myself in a state of hyper focus. A millipede crawled into view — a few feet from my muddied face. I watched as he worked a hundred legs with incredible ease. One by one the legs fell with perfect precision until he made it to the other side of the log and out of view.
I checked my own limbs for any breaks, my muscles for tears. I was fine — and miraculously calm.
The next time you’re in the woods, I hope that it doesn’t take a fall for you to look at the world from the ant’s eye view. You are sure to find your own millipede.
You will see that the millipede has four legs per body segment. This is an easy way to differentiate it from the centipede which only has two. It’s useful to know the difference because predatory centipedes can bite.
There are hundreds of harmless millipede species in the Southern Appalachians. Some are large and brightly colored; others are small and brown.
They eat decaying vegetation and can be eaten by toads, birds, and shrews. To protect their soft undersides, they will often curl into a protective coil if disturbed.
Most also have scent glands that can discharge small but smelly doses of hydrocyanic acid, iodine and quinine. To our noses, this usually comes off as smelling like almonds.
The slow and humble millipede will bring a sense of wonder to your life if only you take the time to get down and look.
Amy Renfranz is a Certified Naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute and a Certified Environmental Educator in the state of North Carolina. Currently, Renfranz is the Director of Education and Natural Resources at the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.
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