The giant African millipede or the shongololo is the largest extant (alive today) species of millipede. It can grow up to 33.5 cm (13.2 in) in length and 67 mm (2.6 in) in circumference. Although the shongololo is called a millipede (a creature with1000 feet), the giant African millipede is known to have any amount of legs between two hundred and four hundred legs.
On the top of their heads are antennae, which may be up to 12mm. This millipede is an arthropod classified by a segmented body, hundreds of legs and an exoskeleton. The body is often dark brown. Each segment of the millipede has four legs apart from the head and tail segments which have two legs.
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Habitat of The Giant African Millipede
This giant millipede can be found in the rain forests of subtropical western Africa, including Ivory Coast, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, and Togo. It can also be found in some coastal areas and southern Arabia. These subtropical insects can often be found near rotting wood piles and hollowed tree trunks.
Food and Defence
The giant African millipede is a detritivore, that lives off decaying and dead, organic matter often found on the forest floor. Decaying plant life and trees are the main diet of the shongololo. Helping maintain the forest, the excrement of the millipede, is full of nutrients.
This nocturnal arthropod will often stay safe in a burrow during the day and then scurry around the floor at night looking for decaying food. It will also chew on rocks which contain minerals such as calcium to maintain its exoskeleton.
Unlike centipedes, the giant African millipede does not have fangs and a venomous bite. Instead it secretes a foul liquid (repungnatorial fluid) from the pores in its skin while rolling up into a spiral. Only the hard exoskeleton of calcareous dorsal plates shows and with the foul liquid, it makes it extremely hard to be carried away by predators.
Reproduction and Social Life
The giant African millipede, has poor eyesight, relying largely on touch with their antennae and legs and possibly by sense of smell. When mating the male will twist around the female. A few weeks later the female will lay hundreds of eggs in a hole. Within 90 days babies are then born white with only three segments and usually three pairs of legs. The millipede will molt its exoskeleton several times, each time, growing more segments and more pairs of legs.
Tiny mites often crawl on their exoskeleton and between and over their legs forming a symbiotic relationship with the millipede, helping clean the exoskeleton in return for food and protection.
Fantastic Facts About Giant African Millipedes
- Based on fossil records, scientists have discovered that millipedes were one of the first animals to live on land and inhabited many geographical regions. The large number of legs are not used for speed but to allow the millipede to dig in to the soil.
- Lemurs will chew on millipedes. The toxic secretions of millipedes, causes them to salivate and become intoxicated
- Lemurs rub the mixture of millipede toxin and their saliva onto their fur as an insecticide.
Conservation Status: Thankfully they are listed as un-threatened in Africa.
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