Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baby Millipedes: The Pitter-Patter of LOTZ of Little Feet

African Giant Millipedes are some of the most beloved animals in our exhibit. They are huge, gentle, vegetarian, and (need we mention) they have lots and lots of legs. They are also very expensive. Formerly imported from the wild, the sale of wild millipedes is now strictly controlled, and every effort is being made to breed them in captivity.

This has proven frustrating. Some facilities report millipedes breeding with abandon, whenever males and females are housed together. Others, including Pacific Science Center, have tried to replicate the conditions with no success. Until now.

Adrian Eng had set a personal goal of getting our Millipedes to breed. Building on the general guidelines for their care, he set up a tank with deep litter, high humidity, and nice places to explore. We offered a variety of foods, including sources for minerals, and plenty of their favorite food, cucumbers.

Months passed, with now sign of babies. No one had even observed them mating as we had in the past. After careful thought and research, Adrian decided that, as decomposers, the millipedes needed the broken down dead leaves and waste we had been removing when we cleaned the cage. In the wild this litter is always part of a millipede’s habitat, and may provide beneficial microorganisms.

We reduced the amount of cleaning we gave the cage. The millipedes seemed to thrive, but without breeding.

Eventually, Adrian accepted a job elsewhere, and began to volunteer only on weekends. The task of millipede care was moved over to Chris.

Chris has continued Adrian’s careful work with the millipedes, and today we found good evidence that their care has paid off. Chris had decided to try a new system, and was about to move the millipedes into a smaller cage with deeper bedding. Instead, he found success. The cage was full of eggs and young millipedes!

Millipedes hatch out as white, immobile neonates, but quickly shed their skins to become active, mobile, miniatures of their parents.

Thanks to the teamwork of the animal care staff, especially Adrian and Chris, who seamlessly carried on Adrian’s techniques, we have a new generation of millipedes. In three to eight years, they should mature into fine adult specimens.

Animal caretakers are very patient people.

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