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RED MILLIPEDE DIPLOPODA
Brown giant millipede - Harpagophoridae
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KINGDOM : Animalia

PHYLUM : Arthropoda

SUBPHYLUM : Myriapoda

CLASS : Diplopoda

ORDER : Spirostreptida

FAMILY : Harpagophoridae

RED MILLIPEDE DIPLOPODA

Millipedes are a group of arthropods that are characterised by having two pairs of jointed legs on most body segments; they are known scientifically as the class Diplopoda, the name being derived from this feature. Each double-legged segment is a result of two single segments fused together. Most millipedes have very elongated cylindrical or flattened bodies with more than 20 segments, while pill millipedes are shorter and can roll into a ball. Although the name "millipede" derives from the Latin for "thousand feet", no known species has 1,000; the record of 750 legs belongs to Illacme plenipes. There are approximately 12,000 named species classified into 16 orders and around 140 families, making Diplopoda the largest class of myriapods, an arthropod group which also includes centipedes and other multi-legged creatures.

Most millipedes are slow-moving detritivores, eating decaying leaves and other dead plant matter. Some eat fungi or suck plant fluids, and a small minority are predatory. Millipedes are generally harmless to humans, although some can become household or garden pests, especially in greenhouses where they can cause severe damage to emergent seedlings. Most millipedes defend themselves with a variety of chemicals secreted from pores along the body, although the tiny bristle millipedes are covered with tufts of detachable bristles. Reproduction in most species is carried out by modified male legs called gonopods, which transfer packets of sperm to females.

First appearing in the Silurian period, millipedes are some of the oldest known land animals. Some members of prehistoric groups grew to over 2 m ; the largest modern species reach maximum lengths of 27 to 38 cm . The longest extant species is the giant African millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas).

Evolution

Millipedes are among the first animals to have colonised land during the Silurian period. Early forms probably ate mosses and primitive vascular plants. There are two major groups of millipedes whose members are all extinct: the Archipolypoda which contain the oldest known terrestrial animals, and Arthropleuridea, which contain the largest known land invertebrates. The earliest known land creature, Pneumodesmus newmani, was a 1 cm long archipolypodan that lived 428 million years ago in the upper Silurian, and has clear evidence of breathing holes attesting to its air-breathing habits. During the Upper Carboniferous (340 to 280 million years ago), Arthropleura became the largest known land-dwelling invertebrate on record, reaching lengths of at least 2 m . Millipedes also exhibit the earliest evidence of chemical defence, as some Devonian fossils have defensive gland openings called ozopores. Millipedes, centipedes, and other terrestrial arthropods attained very large sizes in comparison to modern species in the oxygen-rich environments of the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, and some could grow larger than one metre. As oxygen levels lowered through time, arthropods became smaller.

Distinction from centipedes

The differences between millipedes and centipedes are a common question from the general public. Both groups of myriapods share similarities, such as long, multi-segmented bodies, many legs, a single pair of antennae, and the presence of Tomosvary organs, but have many differences and distinct evolutionary histories, as the most recent common ancestor of centipedes and millipedes lived around 450 to 475 million years ago in the Silurian. The head alone exemplifies the differences; millipedes have short, elbowed antennae for probing the substrate, a pair of robust mandibles and a single pair of maxillae fused into a lip; centipedes have long, threadlike antennae, a pair of small mandibles, two pairs of maxillae and a pair of large poison claws.

Predators and parasites

Millipedes are preyed on by a wide range of animals, including various reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and insects. Mammalian predators such as coatis and meerkats roll captured millipedes on the ground to deplete and rub off their defensive secretions before consuming their prey, and certain poison dart frogs are believed to incorporate the toxic compounds of millipedes into their own defences. Several invertebrates have specialised behaviours or structures to feed on millipedes, including larval glowworm beetles, Probolomyrmex ants, chlamydephorid slugs, and predaceous dung beetles of the genera Sceliages and Deltochilum. A large subfamily of assassin bugs, the Ectrichodiinae with over 600 species, has specialized in preying upon millipedes. Parasites of millipedes include nematodes, phaeomyiid flies, and acanthocephalans.

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