If you're seeking a unique beginner exotic pet that's easy to keep and care for, look no further than the giant millipede. While there is some variation in the appearance of the giant millipede species, they are largely similar in their behavior and care. Giant millipedes need a secure aquarium tank with a warm light source and regulated humidity. They eat easy-to-find vegetables, and they generally don't mind being handled. Just make sure to wash your hands after handling a millipede because it can emit a toxic substance from its body when alarmed.
Common Names: Giant millipede, African giant millipede
Scientific Names: Archispirostreptus spp., Scaphiostreptus spp.
Adult Size: up to 13 inches long
Lifespan: 5 to 10 years
Can You Own a Giant Millipede?
It is perfectly legal to own a giant millipede as a pet in the U.S., but it is not legal to import wild-caught specimens across the U.S. border.
Because it is easy to provide proper housing and care for giant millipedes, there is very little ethical controversy about owning them.
Things to Consider
Giant millipedes are fun pets for people who enjoy "creepy-crawly" creatures and those seeking to overcome their fears of them. Giant millipedes are calm and tolerant of handling, plus they have pretty simple habitat and food needs, so they make great exotic pets.
Giant Millipede Behavior and Temperament
Giant millipedes can be handled safely; they are quite docile and slow-moving. They get along fine with others, so you can keep more than one in the same tank. These millipedes do breed quite readily, though, so if you have males and females together you may discover babies-lots of them. Male millipedes have modified legs on the seventh body segment called gonopods. These legs look different than the other legs in that they have grasping claws and are often carried tucked up under the body.
While they are generally easy-going, these arthropods can get frightened occasionally. When that happens, they have two main modes of defense: First, they curl into a tight spiral; next, they secrete an irritating liquid from body pores.
From each body segment, a millipede can secrete a yellow-brown fluid; it is called a repugnatorial fluid because it smells and tastes foul to predators. Made of hydrogen cyanide, the fluid will irritate your eyes and mouth, so always wash your hands after handling a millipede. Some people are more sensitive to the liquid than others, and some species are also more toxic than others.
Giant millipedes do very well in captivity as long as they're kept in an environment that suits their needs. As a general rule, a 10 to 15-gallon aquarium provides ample room for a couple of millipedes. Floor space is more important than height. A tight-fitting lid is a good idea to prevent the millipedes from sneaking out; just make sure the lid is ventilated with holes small enough to let air in and keep the millipedes from escaping.
Specific Substrate Needs
Millipedes like to burrow a bit, so a 3 to 4–inch layer 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 any insects that may be in it.
Specific Heat and Humidity Needs
There are varied opinions on the appropriate temperatures for giant millipedes. Since millipedes are native to tropical climates, many keepers recommend that the tank should be kept at about 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit or even as high as 85 Fahrenheit. To achieve these conditions, you can use an under-tank heater on a thermostat (often sold for reptile keeping) placed under only one-half of 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 back of the tank. On the other hand, many keepers do not provide supplemental heat at all. If this is the case, make sure your room temperature during the day is at least 72 Fahrenheit, although a slight drop at night should be tolerable. The humidity level in the tank should always be kept at 75 to 80 percent. This can be achieved by keeping the substrate damp with regular misting and checking with a relative humidity meter.
What Do Giant Millipedes Eat and Drink?
In the wild, giant millipedes are herbivores that graze on old and decaying (but not rotting) plant material. In captivity, they can be fed a variety of vegetables and fruits cut into small pieces. Softer vegetables and fruits are best—try lettuce, cucumber (reported to be a favorite food of millipedes), tomatoes, melon, peaches, and bananas. Never wash food for millipedes in chlorinated town or city tap water, as all invertebrates are particularly sensitive to chlorine toxicity.
Additionally, keep a shallow dish of clean and fresh chlorine-free water available for your millipedes all the time. Always leave a large stone in the dish as a climb-out ladder to prevent potential drowning.
Provide food once a day, about as much as your pet will consume in that amount of time (this may take a little experimentation and observation). Foods can be fed in a shallow dish or jar lid. They prefer food that is starting to decay so leaving remainders in the tank for a day or so is helpful. Occasionally, you can dust some of their food lightly with a vitamin supplement containing calcium to add it to their diet.
Common Health Problems
Even experienced exotic animal veterinarians often have little experience with invertebrate pets. The professionals available to you may not be able to provide care for an African giant millipede, so pet owners must take responsibility for their millipede's health through careful control of food, water, humidity, and housing. Be sure to test the water for traces of chlorine and chloramine (disinfectants used to treat drinking water) using an inexpensive pool chemistry test kit, and always double-check the quality and cleanliness of the food and substrate you are providing.
African giant millipedes can struggle with a few health issues, most commonly mites. This can easily become an issue if you've sourced your pet from an unreliable breeder. While some mites live on the millipede and help them keep their body clean (and don't pose any health risks), others attach themselves to one location (typically around the head) and stay there like a parasite. They should be removed with tweezers as quickly and gently as possible.
Your millipede may also encounter fungal infections, which can be caused by a tank environment that is either too high or too low in humidity. Unfortunately, the presence of fungus often indicates a millipede that is already in poor or declining health and can often be fatal.
Giant millipedes are much bigger than the common centipedes and millipedes we see in the U.S. When fully grown, they can be up to 13 inches long and about as big around as a golf ball.
Pros and Cons of Keeping a Giant Millipede as a Pet
Giant millipedes are relatively easy to care for in comparison to many other exotic pets. They don't take up much space, and they don't make noise. However, they are not particularly cuddly, if that's a quality you're looking for, and handling them may result in getting an irritating substance on your skin that millipedes emit when they are agitated.
Purchasing Your Giant Millipede
Giant millipedes must be purchased from an American breeder or pet shop which raises them in the U.S. It is illegal to purchase and transport these animals into the U.S. from other countries. Be sure the seller is a legitimate, licensed breeder with positive reviews from past buyers.
Similar Pets to the Giant Millipede
If you’re interested in other invertebrates you can keep as pets, check out:
Are giant millipedes hard to take care of?
No—in fact, they're considered among the easiest invertebrates to care for. As long as you maintain the proper environment for them, caring for the millipede should be very easy.
How long do giant millipedes live as pets?
While their lifespan is between 5 and 7 years in the wild, giant millipedes that are kept as pets can live up to 10 years with proper care.
Do giant millipedes comes in different colors?
No—this specific variety of millipedes is only black, with some dark brown coloration. However, there are other species—such as the Ghana chocolate millipede—that are lighter in color.
Millipedes and Centipedes. University of Georgia Extension.