Mar 20 2007

Arthropod of the week


Hand in hand with the annual Sewage Backup arrives the annual Millipede Infestation. For where stench and decay harbinge, millipedes fear not to tread. With their zillions of feet. Today, summoning the kind of millipedian savoir-faire that accrues only after years of sewage backup/wildlife experience, and using tiny tranquilizer guns, and we were able to capture and relocate seventeen of these mighty invertebrates from the pink bathroom to the Twisty Diplopoda Compound.

Millipedes, you will be delighted to learn, have, like dogs, two pairs of legs per segment. Unlike dogs, they secrete cyanide.


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  1. Pinko Punko

    I am just not a fan of crawlies. From a scientific and developmental perspective, they are of course massively fascinating, but anything that goes cruncha buncha in an audible way delineates my limit on size of tolerable insect. Also, if they are the kind of thing that even remotely reminds me of that thingy in Star Trek II that goes in your ear, I might just freak the f*** out.

    Would you say that that little one was “Texas-sized” or just average?

  2. Mandos

    Pinko, you have failed the test of total logic.

  3. Dykonoclast

    I think I’m gonna ralph.

  4. Twisty

    This one was about 2″ long, as were the the others in its platoon. Arresting when part of an invading horde, perhaps (altogether, I moved about 3 feet of millipedes today), but shrimpy in the global context of millipedes generally. One Texas species gets to be 6″, and I’ve heard tell of a jumbo African millipede that tops out at 15″. Yeyyyeyyeyyeah.

  5. edith

    That reminds me, I should do some cleaning. I clean about as well as I do laundry.

  6. Rainbow Girl

    Swarms of voracious multi-legged beasts secreting cyanide?


    Damn, those nice guys warning us about the women’s rights pendulum swinging too far were right-why did I not heed their warnings!??! Repent before it’s too late! MODEL JESUS WILL SAVE US!

  7. Dr. Free-Ride

    I’ve seen the giant African millipedes. They’re impressive.

    If it wouldn’t squick Pinko Punko right outta existence, I’d enquire about the possibility of training your millipedes to wrap themselves around the cerebral cortices of folks in the throes of the Patriarchy, thus paving the way for the Twistolution. (I loves me some Wrath of Khan.)

  8. deciduousfruit

    Where’s the Department of HomeFront Security on this one? Seems to me this is a clear sign that Al-Ciqada is in posession of bioterror weapons!
    I’m going to have to vote EWW just b/c someone had to go and mention the Wrath of Khan. ::shudders:: Once upon a time I read a short story about a woman who was slowly being sucked dry by this giant tick-like thing living in her pillow. She wastes away until she’s just a shell and her husband sets her up to sit on a balcony where she can be admired (because she’s effectively a giant doll). Anyone read that? I can’t remember the title but it was by a l. american author.

  9. octopod

    Honestly, all I can say is “AWWWWWW, how CUTE!” That’s a pretty one you’ve got there.
    We’ve got those too. I love watching the way their legs ripple.

  10. Mau

    You know, people pay a lot of money to acquire the 6″-15″ ones as pets….

  11. SoozeZ

    I’ll take millipedes over the nastier, also-poisonous centipedes any day. (Although I will not willingly take the sewage…)

    And I quote: “Most centipedes can only bite with their poison claws located directly under the head; however, Scolopendra can harm a person with the sharp claws of its many walking legs. Each walking leg is tipped with a sharp claw capable of making tiny cuts in human skin. A poison produced from the attachment point of each leg may be dropped into the wounds resulting in an inflamed and irritated condition.”–Texas A&M cooperative extension webpage

    I must leave now to shudder and writhe in revulsion.

  12. Joanna

    Tne story is by Rosario Ferre (Puerto Rico) and is “The Youngest Doll” from the collection by the same title. Originally published in Spanish in the book Papeles de Pandora. It’s actually a great revenge against the patriarchy story. I won’t give any spoilers because it’s worth a read.

    I’m with Pinko Punko on the cruncha buncha factor. Those big old waterbugs I met in New Orleans just freaked me out.

  13. Joanna

    Actually, now that I reread your description, there are two different stories; the story with the tick=thing in the pillow is by Horacio Quiroga, and the story with the doll on the balcony is The Youngest Doll. First one is about how marriage will kill you, second one is about how the wife escapes.

  14. Sylvanite

    Looks like the gates of access have not yet slammed shut.

    Millipedes are teh awesome. Earwigs, on the other hand, not so much. I hate those things. And the oriental cockroaches that get into our house because our neighbors don’t understand the basics of garbage handling and disposal. Sigh.

  15. Orange

    I hate hate hate millipedes and centipedes with an impassioned revulsion. I’ve had nightmares.

    We get the centipedes scurrying up the wall regularly here, but the millipedes only had two seasons. Those two seasons, about 10 years ago, scarred me for life. These were only about an inch long (TX has two-inchers? I must never move south), but they swarmed over the neighborhood and into buildings for a month or two. And when you squish ’em (see “impassioned revulsion” above, plus deep-seated fear), they put out a stench so they can have the last laugh.

    My mate watched an internet video of a rapacious giant centipede. I haven’t seen or heard any details, but I’m frightened anyway.

    And now, I will dream that a hundred- or thousand-legged fucker will suck me dry as I sleep.

  16. Sandy D.

    I liked that thing a lot better until you said it was about 2″ long. The ones I’ve seen in Michigan are only like half an inch long. Yay for winter and keeping arthropods tiny and outdoors.

  17. Twisty

    Centipedes are actually good to have around. They eat roaches and flies and stuff. I’ll take a centipede over a roach any day.

  18. Hawise

    Yup, ’tis the season. We have a pale brown thin millipede with long legs and and almost feathery off shoots. They have been showing up about the house as the weather warms and they can get to three inches long.

  19. Mar Iguana

    You have tiny tranquilizer guns!? Que cool. Every woman in the world should be armed with at least one.

    Big bug fan here, they’re fascinating. Except for one. The Iguana Compound can not abide the presence of yer eradicable, garden-variety potato bug, AKA “niña de la tierra,” Satan’s fetus, the Devil’s spawn, etc., per this site (the FAQs are hilarious), “…dedicated to the fabrication and perpetuation of fear, hate and disgust for the Potato Bug:” http://www.potatobugs.com/

    My will-never-live-it-down potato bug story: A dear friend worked very hard on having a formal dinner party, complete with place cards and candelabra. I felt something stir under my blouse around my right shoulder and just knew it was a potato bug (don’t know how). In one smooth motion, I jumped up like a possessed woman, getting that blouse up over my head, off in a flash and thrown to the floor, screaming “Potato bug, potato bug.” My embarrassment was compounded by the fact that I was not wearing a bra.

    Needless to say, the other invitees were gaping at me, forks suspended, knowing they were in the presence of a truly insane and/or drug-induced flip-out. But, could I find the nasty, clingy little fucker when I searched my blouse? Oh, hell no.

    I calmly put my blouse back on and sat down, noticing those sitting next to me did move their chairs away slightly, getting the stink-eye from everybody else, especially the hostess. You can imagine my joy when I found the disgusting thing on the kitchen floor later, incarcerated it under a glass and forced the other guests to troop through the kitchen to view my vindicating trophy.

  20. Penny

    Nice photo Twisty! That, and that they eat roaches, softens my heart towards them.

  21. Twisty

    I urge all you hatas to consider that you’re being speciesist. What did any millipede ever do to you, except undulate along just being a millipede, which is exactly what any of us would want, only with fewer legs?

  22. B. Dagger Lee

    My heart belongs to spiders. And Miss Patsy. I’m also kind of a mama’s girl.

    yrs, BDL

  23. BubbasNightmare

    B. Dagger Lee:
    “My heart belongs to spiders.”

    “Centipedes are actually good to have around.”
    YES! Lived in a house that had centipedes, but absolutely nothing else, unlike my neighbors, who were plagued by the usual roaches, etc. We didn’t even have spiders, and the centipedes were okay as long as you didn’t insist on handling them.

    Millipedes can be interesting, but midnight bare-footed crunches don’t do much for me.

  24. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    I know this is prejudice, but I heart not anything with more than eight legs. Spiders, flies, and those things which do not bite or sting get transported back outside in the most humane fashion practicable Chez Niebieszczanski, but centi- and milipedes are subject to harsher treatment, if they are not consumed by the cats. This is not a thing of the mind; no, it is on a more visceral level. All I ask is that they stay outdoors. I’m with BDL. I prefer spiders.

  25. Tapetum

    Twisty – I’m not speciesist; I’m phobic. Not the poor millipedes fault that one of its relatives (a carpenter ant queen) came crawling up my teenaged leg in the middle of the night, confronting me suddenly when I flipped the light on, and causing me to (like Pinko Punko) to recoil in horror from anything big enough to make audbile crunching sounds when squished. I nearly changed vets, despite loving our current, very handily located one, simply because he got some giant millipedes for pets. *shudders*

  26. Jodie

    Me, I’m a fool for Daddy Longlegs spiders. I love those things. Millipedes are also cool, but centipedes have the scare factor of wasps for me (I think it’s because they are so fast, plus they are irrevocably tied to Girl Scout Camp and latrine cleaning which permanently traumatized me in my youth).

    Mar, you really, really shouldn’t make me laugh so hard at work. I already have a reputation for being a little odd.

  27. Tpurplesage

    I did 4 years of research with fruit flies in college, but I love all the bugs. Potato, pillbug, millipede, all shapes, sizes and leg configurations. I use to collect them in jars and raise them as a child, now I just enjoy them in their own habitat, and kindly catch and release if they end up where I don’t want them. I love the diversity and adaptation of our insect neighbors.

    Plus, it make sense to make friends, there are many more of them than us!

  28. Adam

    Hey! Cool looking bug. Never handled one before, but a friend of mine had a tarantula as a pet, which was definitely an interesting experience. But I like snakes better than arthropods & bugs over all. The hairy chimpanzee in the back of my brain gets more nervous around the to-many legged things than the stuff with no legs for some reason. *shrug*

  29. Sara

    While I have no desire to handle anything secreting cyanide let alone allow it to crawl into my ear, I do declare that that is one cute little bug. So round! So multi-jointed! And undoubtedly, so fun to watch! Good for you for mounting such a conscientious relocation mission.

  30. Artemis

    Ahhh, tales of Austin varmints. If you live there for any period of time, they accumulate. I’ve regaled my non-Texas-living friends with more than a few over the years. It occurs to me that they have a particular view of Texas as a result.

    One of my favorites comes from when I had just moved into a sweet little house in north central Austin. The property was full of verdant Live Oaks. Walking out of the house into the yard with the landlord one day, he said, “watch out for the tree roaches.” I innocently asked, “why do they call them tree roaches?”

    In answer, a large object dropped directly in front of my face to land SPLACK on the stone pathway at my feet. Squirming there after its freefall was one of the biggest freakin’ roaches I’ve ever laid eyes on. Missed me by that much. You pretty much just have to have a sense of humor there.

  31. Pony

    Good. It’s still snowing. You can’t imagine what that inhibits, or kills outright.

    Does this critter have a face? I swear I see a face.

  32. cycles

    I take inappropriate glee in horrifying West Coast and Yankee folks with tales of giant Texas cockroaches. I’m still not sure what the appropriate name is: cockroaches, palmetto bugs, water bugs? All euphemisms for two-inch brown fuckers that take multiple stomps to kill.

    We do have some amazing land-mollusks in the southern Bay Area. The famous banana slugs of Santa Cruz are a good example; no exaggeration in the name. They’re like slow-moving, slightly slimy, leathery living monorails.

  33. Nymphalidae

    What a cutie! I love these guys – gentle giants feeding on detritus.

  34. Joanna

    I went camping near Santa Cruz as a child and left the tent to pee. Barefoot. Not cruncha buncha but a big yellow squish: my first banana slug.

  35. Sylvanite

    cycles, I think the primary species down south is the American cockroach. We had those suckers in the Natural History Building at the U of I, and the grad students used to have contests revolving around who caught the biggest one. One of the grad students had a couple of his trophies mounted on the wall of his office. They loved the steam tunnels – it was the only way they could survive an Illinois winter.

  36. Moira

    The closer to the equator you get, the bigger (and more numerous) the arthropodae. Cockroach, water bug, and palmetto bug are all acceptable names for the gigantic flying roaches that make Houston such a stump-stupid place to put a city. True, there are other reasons, but my college advisor took a degree at Rice University in Houston and lived off-campus in an old building. She reports that she had to leave food out for the roaches lest they destroy her books by eating the glue from the bindings. True story.

    Another true story: fire ants, those vicious little fuckers, love to eat cotton. Such as your towels, or the panties that are so much better for you than synthetic-fiber panties here in the subtropics.

    My father used to live on a small farm outside of Manor, Texas (close to Austin), where I learned the fun fact about the goddamned fire ants. He also kept a ball peen hammer in the living room to whack the scorpions that came in. Sanctity of life my ass, I’m killing them before they get anywhere close to me.

    That is one handsome millipede there.

  37. Roo

    A good specimen, that. A good friend of mine has one of the huge African varieties as a pet: it is quite adorable. The secreted cyanide is actually only bad if you eat-slash-lick the suckers. It’s the millipedes you’ve got to worry about handling. Got to love anything that can get all of its nutrition feeding on the microbes feeding on trash, eh? It eats like a cow eating the dirt, picking out the grass in its stomach, then pooping out the dirt. Detritovores are neat.

  38. Shannon

    That settles it. Boyfriend’s “let’s move to Austin” kick, officially started last night, ends TODAY.

    Sorry, Twisty. I can take spiders and just about any other insect you can name, but that sucker just squicks me out, let alone a whole invasion of them. The bloodsucking blackflies of Maine seem heavenly by comparison.

  39. Scratchy888

    They look not unlike the african version — chongololos.


    We used to either swerve to miss them or swerve to hit them on our bikes, depending on our proclivities.

  40. deciduousfruit

    thanks for the clarification Joanna! I had an inkling that I was crossing narratives when I remembered the doll on the balcony ending. I love the Quiroga story but I’ll have check the rest of the Papeles de Pandora. -K

  41. M The Pedagogue

    Wow! That’s a Nat’l G’raphic worthy shot!

    One summer, my family must have suffered a backup like yours, Twisty, and my sisters and I entertained ourselves for hours sitting on the stairs to our basement, waiting for a nervous squiggly line to shimmy across the floor. That horror-fascination-revulsion-attraction thing best embodied by kids was in full force. It was especially fantastic when the cat would hunt the suckers down and then run around with a crawly dangling from his mouth. We obviously didn’t know about the cyanide part then.

    In my mind, the creatures from The Summer of the Basement Millipedes are still a foot long.

    I saw my first banana slug on my first mushroom trip in the Tennesee Valley in Marin, CA. Hooooooooooooooolyy shiiiiiiiiiiiiit, maaaan.

  42. Radalan

    “He also kept a ball peen hammer in the living room to whack the scorpions that came in”

    I’ll take millipedes any day over scorpions. There’s nothing quite like things with long, hellish-looking stingers that hang out where your bare toes usually are. If you feel as if someone just whacked your big toe with a hammer, smile! – you probably just met a scorpion.

  43. Radalan

    “That settles it. Boyfriend’s “let’s move to Austin” kick, officially started last night, ends TODAY.”

    Wait! We haven’t even gotten to talk about the poisonous snakes yet!

  44. stekatz

    Here’s a joke:

    Q: What’s a millipede’s favorite toy?

    A: Legos

  45. Mar Iguana

    Ah, the majestic banana slug. Gotta love ’em’cause what else are ya going to do in this neck of the redwoods. This banana slug festival (just one of many here in the Northwest) was much fun. Especially all the folks in their best banana slug outfits:

    38th Annual Banana Slug Festival, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP, 50 miles N of Eureka off Hwy 101 take Newton B. Drury Scenic Hwy to the park, August 19.
    August 19, 2006

    Celebrate the banana slug and honor an important element of the ancient redwood forest. Meet at the Prairie Creek picnic area for a fun-filled afternoon of activities for all ages. For more information call (707) 464-6101 x 5301

    Just don’t look the elk in the eyes at less than thirty paces and everything will be just fine.

  46. Carolyn J.

    I would have cracked the foundation of my house with screams. But outside is just fine.

    I think Pinko Punko sums it up nicely with the phrase “cruncha buncha”.

  47. Bird

    As gut-wrenchingly nasty as they are to step on, I must confess a fondness for the banana slug.

    When I was really young, we lived on the west coast. We had this huge tomcat that would pick up the slugs (smaller ones) with one claw and slither them down his throat like an exotic delicacy.

    I used to love to stretch out on the back deck in the sun and watch one making its way across the paving stones in the shade, especially if there was a chance of the cat coming in for a snack.

    But then, I was the sort of girl that boys would try to scare with caterpillars and disappointed them when I wanted to play with the fuzzies instead.

  48. donna

    I don’t mind them except when they turn up dead and the dog tries to eat them….

  49. Julie

    What a beautiful milli! Makes me pine for my long-departed African giant millipedes (Archospirostreptus gigas). Their names were Atari, Nefertari, and Nefertiti, and when they walked up your arm they felt like giant soft scuttling toothbrushes. They never got to 15″, but were probably approaching 10″ at maturity.

    You probably wouldn’t have loved my also-departed 8″-long Caribbean centipede, Nigel, but then again Nige wasn’t someone that even I would let walk up my arm.

  50. Older

    Hawise — In what part of the country do you live? We live in western Oregon, and we once found one of those millipedes with the long feathery legs, and no one, No one! even at the university, could be found to tell us what it was. (Other than “a millipede with long feathery legs.”)

    We figured it might be from away, because we found it near the bus depot. So, please, where do those things normally live?

    Oh, sorry, no patriarchy-blaming. Can’t quite figure out a connection.

  51. Ron Sullivan

    Older —

    You sure that wasn’t a centipede?

  52. Betsy


  53. Older

    Ron — no, I’m not. Especially at this distance of time.

  54. Trina

    Secrete cyanide?!? No wonder the cats won’t eat them for me. I shall remember next time I see one on the bathroom floor: Felines may roll them around, but should not eat them.

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