There are a variety of millipedes kept as pets that are generally called giant millipedes or giant African millipedes (Archispirostreptus spp, Scaphiostreptus spp). There are several species available, but there is often confusion over the exact species since species identification can be quite difficult in living specimens, and there appears to be 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.
Quick Facts About African Giant Millipedes
- Adult size is about 10 inches long.
- In general, giant millipedes have an expected lifespan of about 7-10 years.
- They have two main modes of defense if they feel threatened: they curl into a tight spiral, and they secrete an irritating liquid from pores on their body. This liquid 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.
- They 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 7th 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.
- Millipedes do not actually have a thousand legs - they usually have between 100-400 (2 sets of legs per body segment). Each time they molt, they add more segments and therefore more legs.
Housing Giant Millipedes
- Cage Size: As a general rule, a 10-15 gallon aquarium is 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.
- Substrate: Millipedes like to burrow a bit so a good layer (3-4 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).
- Heat and Humidity: 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 75-80 F (24-27 C) or even as high as 85 F (30 C). 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 F (22 C), 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.
- Light: No special lighting is required, and should be avoided as the millipedes will spend most of their time hiding to avoid the light.
- Water: Provide a bit fresh drinking water in a very shallow dish and clean regularly.
Feeding Giant Millipedes
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, bananas, etc. The food can be fed in a shallow dish or jar lid. 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 - freezing is a good idea 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.