The words “giant millipede” might make you a little uneasy if you’re unfamiliar with these astonishing arthropods. Narceus americana can grow to a little over 4 inches long and can live up to 11 years – an incredibly long life span compared to many other invertebrates!
Clad in the thick armor of a many-segmented exoskeleton, these shy forest dwellers “creep” along the forest floor, although “crawl” doesn’t adequately describe the undulating wave of their legs, rippling like the edge of a dancer’s ball gown. Their predatory cousins, centipedes, are fast and sometimes aggressive, sporting powerful jaws capable of delivering a powerful bite. Millipedes on the other hand are scavengers, and have weak jaws suited to their diets of decaying leaf litter.
When threatened, the millipede curls into a ball and waits for the danger to pass. If this doesn’t work, it might secrete a foul-tasting liquid that irritates the skin of a would-be predator. In spite of this, the millipede is an important part of the food chain and has many predators, including mammals such as opossums and raccoons, several bird species, reptile species, and many amphibians such as salamanders.
Handling giant millipedes is relatively safe, although you should wash your hands afterward, as with any time you handle wildlife. They can be found near rotting logs or under piles of leaf litter, and tend to be nocturnal. Try looking for them around dusk or with a red light (to avoid blinding them and other nocturnal critters) at night.
So, creepy crawly or gentle giant? Take some time to get to know these critters, and you might just find yourself agreeing with me on my vote: gentle giant!