Millipedes in Madagascar



Millipedes (Class = Diplopoda) are common in the forests of Madagascar. These elongated arthropods have two pairs of legs for each one of their 20 to 100 or more body segments. Unlike centipedes, millipedes are nonvenomous and slow-moving. They are herbivorous, eating decaying leaves and other dead plant matter

One of the most interesting millipede groups in Madagascar belongs to the Sphaerotheriida order. These millipedes superficially resemble pill bugs for their ability to roll into a tight ball.

The following description of millipedes is excerpted from A Naturalist in Madagascar by James Sibree (Seeley, Service & Co.: London, 1915)

In passing along the forest paths we frequently come across examples of the curious ball insect (Sphaerotheriida sp.), of which there are several species, at least six, in Madagascar. These insects, which are wingless and many-footed, and are called, not very elegantly, by the Malagasy Taink'ntana, or "Star-droppings," have the power of instantaneously rolling themselves into an almost perfect sphere, which form they retain as long as any danger threatens them, and no force short of pulling them to pieces can make them unroll. The animal is formed of nine or ten segments, each with a pair of legs and covered with a plate of armour; while the head and tail are defended by larger plates, each of which fits into the other and makes a more perfectly fitting suit of armour than was ever worn by medieval knight. There are several species of these pretty and curious creatures. The most common kind here is one which forms a ball barely an inch in diameter and shining black in colour. Another, more rarely seen in the interior open country, but common enough in the upper belt of forest, is of a beautiful brown colour like russia leather, and is quite double the size of the first-mentioned one. In passing through the main forest in 1892, we came suddenly one day to a part of the road which was so thickly covered by such a great number of these creatures that our bearers could not avoid trampling on them. These were of a bronze-green tint and belong to a third species, and were quite three inches in length. Other species of these Sphrotheria are found in Africa, Asia, Australia and some of the neighbouring islands.

Another many-footed and wingless creature is common enough in the upper forest, for we often found it on the upper verandah of the house at Andrngalaka; this is a shining black millipede, about a foot in length, and half to three-quarters of an inch in thickness. It is called by the natives Kdikdy, and its numerous reddish legs, not far short of a thousand in number, have a curious effect of successive waves as it moves along. Although not very inviting in appearance, it is quite harmless and is a vegetable feeder. There is another species which is marked longitudinally with black and red stripes.