If you're looking for a unique exotic pet that's easy to keep and care for, look no farther than the African giant millipede. Millipedes may look a bit like insects, but in fact, they're arthropods—relatives of crabs and shrimp.
There are a variety of millipedes kept as pets that are generally called giant millipedes or giant African millipedes, but there is often confusion over the exact species since species identification can be quite difficult in living specimens, and there is some dispute over the correct scientific names of some millipedes. However, while there is some variation in appearance, the giant millipedes are largely similar in their characteristics and care. In general, giant millipedes are easy pets to care for, and get a great reaction from visitors!
Common Name: African Giant Millipede
Scientific Name(s): Archispirostreptus spp, Scaphiostreptus spp
Adult Size: 7.5 to11 inches
Life Expectancy: 7 to 10 years
Difficulty of Care: Beginner
African Giant Millipede Behavior and Temperament
African giant millipedes can be handled and are quite docile and slow moving. They get along fine with others so you can keep more than one per tank. They do breed quite readily so if you have males and females together you may find yourself with babies. Male millipedes have modified legs on the seventh body segment called gonopods. These legs look different than the other legs (they have grasping claws) and are often carried tucked up under the body.
While they are generally easy-going, these arthropods can get frightened. When that happens, they have two main modes of defense: they curl into a tight spiral, and they secrete an irritating liquid from pores on their body.
A millipede's liquid secretion can be harmful if it gets in your eyes or mouth so you must wash your hands after handling a millipede. Some people are more sensitive to the liquid than others, and some species are more "toxic" than others.
Millipedes do not actually have a thousand legs; they usually have between 100 and 400 (two sets of legs per body segment). Each time they molt, they add more segments and therefore more legs.
Housing the African Giant Millipede
African giant millipedes do very well in captivity and can live comfortably in groups. It's important, however, to provide an environment that suits their needs.
As a general rule, a 10- to 15-gallon aquarium provides ample room for a couple of millipedes. Make sure the length of the tank is at least twice the length of the millipede (and the width as wide as the millipede is long). Floor space is more important than height. A lid is a good idea.
Millipedes like to burrow a bit so a good layer (3 to 4 inches) of peat moss or a peat moss/soil mixture (no chemical or fertilizer added) can form the base. This can be covered with some sphagnum moss and pieces of bark to provide additional cover. Leaf litter can also be used, although you may want to freeze it first to kill insects in it. The substrate should be kept damp (but not wet).
There are varied opinions on the appropriate temperatures for giant millipedes. Since millipedes hail from tropical climates, many keepers recommend that the tank should be kept at about 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 27 degrees Celsius) or even as high as 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). An under tank heater on a thermostat (as sold for reptile keeping) placed under one-half of the tank can be used to heat the tank. If placing a heater under the tank warms the substrate too much or dries it out, the heat pad can be affixed to the side or part of the back of the tank. On the other hand, many keepers do not provide supplemental heat. If this is the case, make sure your room temperature during the day is at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius), although a slight drop at night should be okay. The humidity level should also be kept quite high, and this can be achieved by keeping the substrate damp (not wet) with regular misting.
Food and Water
Giant millipedes are herbivores, dining in the wild on decaying material. In captivity, they can be fed a variety of vegetables and fruits, cut into small pieces. Softer vegetables and fruits are best; try leaf lettuce, cucumber (reported as a favorite food of millipedes), tomatoes, melon, peaches, and bananas. The food can be fed in a shallow dish or jar lid; provide food once a day, about as much as your pet or pets can consume in that amount of time. They prefer food that is starting to decay so leaving it for a day or so is not a problem. It is also a good idea to provide some leaf litter (decaying leaves). You can freeze the leaves to reduce the number of bugs introduced on the leaves).
Calcium should be added to the diet. Dust the food lightly with a vitamin supplement containing calcium.
Be sure to keep a shallow dish of chlorine-free water available for your pets. Place a stone in the dish to prevent drowning.
Common Health Issues
There are no vets that will care for an African giant millipede, so pet owners must take responsibility for their millipede's health. This can be done through careful control of food, water, and housing. Be sure to test the water and double check the quality of food and substrate you are providing if your millipede:
- Loses its appetite
- Is lethargic
- Appears to have fungus on its shell
- Has a dull rather than shiny shell
Purchasing Your African Giant Millipede
While it is perfectly legal to own an African Giant Millipede as a pet, it is not legal to import these creatures. When imported from the wild, they carry a symbiotic mite which can cause crop damage. Thus, if you are buying a pet African Giant Millipede you must buy from an American breeder or pet shop which raises them in the U.S. This means it can be tough to find an African Giant Millipede—though there are breeders out there. Be sure whoever sells you your pet is a legitimate breeder with positive reviews from past buyers.
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