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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 8:32 EDT

Giant African Millipede, Archispirostreptus gigas

The Giant African Millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas) is a species of millipede found widespread through the lowland areas of East Africa, from Mozambique to Kenya. It rarely reaches altitudes above 3,300 feet. It is found mostly in forests, but can also be found in coastal habitats which contain at least some trees. It is native to Southern Arabia, especially in Dhofar.

The Giant Millipede is one of the largest in the millipede group, reaching upwards of 15.2 inches in length and 2.6 inches in circumference. It has 256 legs. It is black in color and is often kept as a pet. The life expectancy is typically 5 to 7 years.

This species has two main lines of defense when threatened: it will curl into a tight spiral exposing only the hard exoskeleton, and it will also secrete an irritating liquid from the pores of its body. This liquid can be harmful if it makes contact with the eyes or mouth.

The male of the species, as well as others in the genus, has modified legs on the 7th body segment called gonopods. These legs look different than the other legs, as they have grasping claws, and are often tucked up under the body.

Despite secreting toxic liquid, it is generally safe to handle this species as it is rather docile and slow moving. It gets along fine with others so you can keep more than one in a tank. But since they reproduce readily, beware that keeping a male and female in the tank together will result abundant offspring.

If you do keep this species as a pet, there are some things you may need to know up front. A 10 to 15 gallon tank should provide ample room for a couple of millipedes, but make sure the tank length is at least twice the length of the specimen. Since millipedes like to burrow, a good layer of peat moss or peat moss/soil mixture at least 3 to 4 inches deep is recommended. The surface can be covered with leaf litter, bark, or sphagnum moss. Leaf litter should be frozen prior to use to kill any insects stowing away within it as well. Substrate should be damp but not wet.

It is also recommended that you keep a room temperature of at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but not more than 85 F, as it could dry out the substrate too much. Night time temperatures can go a little lower than 72 F without much worry. Humidity levels in the tank should be kept rather high, which can be achieved by keeping the substrate damp with regular misting.

No special lighting is required, and should be avoided as millipedes usually spend most of their time avoiding the light by hiding. Clean water in a shallow dish should be provided and kept clean.

This species, as well as other giant millipedes, is a herbivore, dining mainly on decaying lat material. In captivity it will readily eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, cut into small pieces — the softer the better. It prefers food that is already beginning to decay so leaving it for a few days in the tank is no problem. Calcium should also be added to the diet, by dusting food lightly with a vitamin supplement containing calcium.

Image Caption: Raphicerus melanotis. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Giant African Millipede Archispirostreptus gigas