Nutrition by Alex Crain

The H. haydeniana prefers dead organic material, such as leaf litter; however they will eat dead arthropods as well as roots and the shoots of young seedlings. Millipedes have also been known to consume their own feces. (Hopkin & Read 1992) The millipede’s mouth consists of a pair of maxillae, a pair of mandibles and a plate known as the gnathocilarium. The maxillae acts much like our upper jaw and the mandibles like our lower jaw; the gnathocilarium is literally used as a plate which the mandibles works against when shredding food like leaf litter. (Branson 1997)

However H. haydeniana is not the organism that is considered a decomposer, some other examples are L. edodes, A. alternata, G. tappaniana, A. muscaria and G. sterkii

  leaf litter

Figure 1. Maple leaf litter would be an ideal meal for a millipede

In the rainforests on the coasts of British Columbia millipedes are the main macrofauna and consume a large proportion of the annual litter, H. haydeniana alone consumes close to 36% of the litter. (Cárcamo et al. 2000) Although in some of the millipede’s food sources, especially leaf litter there are other chemicals that are not necessarily nutrients that have dietary effects on the millipede, mostly negative. Phenol and tannic acid are some of these detrimental chemicals, which are naturally occurring within plants in small quantities. In an experiment where the millipedes are exposed to less than 10% of the acid for 7 days showed a statistically significant decrease in rate of assimilation, as well as growth rate in the younger subjects. There was also evidence of lower level of tissue glycogen, carbohydrates and lipids. (Roy and Joy, 2009) However it was shown that the millipedes are very sensitive to these chemical amounts and will feed on certain leaf litter types if given a choice. (Joy et al. 1998)

yellow-spotted millipede

Figure 2. H. haydeniana crawling though its favorite food, leaf liter

The digestion of the litter takes place primarily in the foregut of the millipede where the salivary glands secrete enzymes, including catalase, cellulose and peroxidase. (Hartenstein 1982) After completely passing through the gut, undigested materials are released in the form of fecal pellets. About 90% of leaf litter, by mass, consumed by the millipede is egested in this form. (David & Gillon 2002) A comparison of the chemical composition of leaf litter versus the millipede’s feces indicates that a millipede utilizes only water-soluble and/or compounds such as carbohydrates, short-chained amino acids and lipids, compounds that are easily degradable. (Rawlins et al. 2006)

References in Order of Appearance:

 Hopkin, S.P. and H.J. Read. 1992. The Biology of Millipedes. Oxford University Press. Oxford, UK.

Branson, B. A. 1997. Legions of legs. World & I 12: 170.

Cárcamo, H.A., T.A. Abe, C.E. Prescott, F.B. Holl and C.P. Chanway. 2000. Influence of millipede on litter decomposition, N mineralization, and microbial communities in a coastal forest in British Columbia, Canada. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 30: 817-826.

 Roy, S.N. and V.C. Joy. Dietary effects of non-nutrients in the leaf litter of forest trees on assimilation, growth and tissue composition of the detritivous soil arthropod Anoplodesmus saussurei (Humb.) (Polydesmida: Diplopoda). Applied Soil Ecology 43: 53-60.

Joy, S., K. Sarkar, R. Pramanik and V.C. Joy. Digestion of carbohydrate resources in decomposing leaf litter by Anoplodesmus saussurei (Humb.) (Polydesmida: Diplopoda). Ecology, Environment and Conservation 4: 117-122.

Hartenstein, R. 1982. Soil macroinvertebrates, aldehyde oxidase, catalase, cellulose and peroxidase. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 14: 387-391.

David, J.F. and D. Gillon. 2002. Annual feeding rate of the millipede Glomeris marginata on holm oak (Quercus ilex) leaf litter under Mediterranean conditions. Pedobiologia 46: 42-52.

Rawlins, A.J., I.D. Bull, N. Poirier, P. Ineson, R.P. Evershed. 2006. The biochemical transformation of oak (Quercus robur) leaf litter consumed by the pill millipede (Glomeris marginata). Soil Biology and Biochemistry 38: 1063-1076.

Photo References in Order of Appearance:

Wikimedia Commons 2005.<> Accessed 6 December 2013.

Wikimedia Commons 2011.<> Accessed 6 December 2013.