Millipedes in the Botswana Bush

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Millipedes in the Botswana Bush

Safaris clients become real explorers with nature & animals on safaris… finding what they think are new animals & bugs and coming up with stories of why these animals/bugs are behaving in some strange way – sometimes all they are doing is simply sleeping but there is always a story behind that sleep from our clients!

On a recent tour of Botswana a group of enthusiastic German clients and myself (Andree the guide!) stopped for a lunch break at a stunning camp site in the Khwai River area.

The night before it had rained so the ground by our picnic area was covered by numerous black millipedes…

And so the stories began….

These peculiar biological specimens’s that were curling and wriggling on the ground awakened the curiosity of our group. While debating and arguing if they really have a thousand legs (they have in fact up to about 400 and some of them reach a length of about 38 cm) a few of the millipedes disappeared into a ants nest.

Now the big question arose: “What are they doing there?”, although millipedes do not sting or bite they do have their own defence mechanism. They secrete a mild toxin from pores on their bodies    which can paralyze and even kills the ant. Should you come into contact with these millipedes you will not suffer the same wrath as the ants, as long as you wash your hands after handling them.

Rarely do problems occur for humans, though some people are more sensitive than others to the toxin. Lutz from Berlin guessed, “They are feeding on ants and having lunch like we are!”.  But I intervened and defended the millipedes for being ‘more or less’ all herbivores who really only eat leaves and other dead plant matter.

This left the group fairly clueless as to why the millipedes went into the ant nest…. When we finished lunch and went back to the Landcruiser Sieglinde from Leipzig came up with the shrewd idea:

“I know what the millipedes are going for in the ant nest – they go there for pedicures!!”

Written by: Andree (Guide for Jenman Safaris)

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