Monday, October 18, 2010

15 Species of millipede in the Maltese islands

Last Sunday I found several millipedes sheltering in the rugged bark on the trunks of several eucalyptus trees at Wardija.

 I normally see millipedes moving either on or underneath the eucalyptus leaves which cover the ground beneath these trees so I assumed they climbed to escape from rain water.

Fifteen species of millipede can be found in the Maltese islands.

 The common millipede which apart being found in leaf litter can also be found damp basements and other humid parts of houses, is the largest species in the Maltese islands. It has a cylindrical segmented body with two pairs of legs on each segment except on the first behind the head which has no legs and the next few which have only one. 

Most people who have touched this species are aware that when threatened it release a foul smelling liquid. This liquid repels predators but it generally does not cause any harm to humans.

The common millipede is called ħanex ta’ l-indewwa tad-djar but many people call it millipid or dudu a name given to many other animals including caterpillars.

Not all millipedes have a cylindrical body. The pill millipede which is known in Maltese as żibġa ta’ l-indewwa has a short stocky shape similar to that of the woodlouse which is known in Maltese as ħanżir l-art, and like the woodlouse it can roll into a ball to defend itself from predators and to prevent dehydration.

As anybody who knows some Italian can guess, the name millipede means a thousand feet even though these animals at the most a few hundred legs.

About 10,000 species of millipede are found in the world. Most are herbivores feed mainly on decaying leaves and other dead plant parts but some species are omnivorous or carnivorous and can eat small insects and other small animals such as centipedes and earthworms.

This article was published in The Times on 13.10.2010

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