The extinct millipede Arthropleura was a giant at 6 feet long and 20 inches wide. These behemoths were the largest terrestrial arthropod to have walked on land. Fossilized in 300 million year old rocks in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Appalachia, you can still find pieces of their exoskeleton. Interestingly, closest relatives of Arthropleura are among the smallest of millipedes—the 3 mm long pincushion millipedes (Polyxenida).

Further reading

Lucas, S.G., A.J. Lerner, J.T. Hannibal, A.P. Hunt, J.W. Schneider (2005) Trackway of a giant Arthropleura from the Upper Pennsylvanian of El Cobre Canyon, New Mexico. New Mexico Geological Society, 56th Field Conference Guidebook, Geology of the Chama Basin, p. 279-282.

Schneider, J.W., R. Werneburg (1998) Arthropleura und Diplopoda (Arthropoda) aus dem Unter-Rotliegend (Unter-Perm, Assel) des Thüringer Waldes (Südwest-Saale-Senke). Veröffentlichungen des Naturhistorisches Museum Schleusingen, 13: 19-36.

Shear, W.A., G.D. Edgecombe (2009) The geological record and phylogeny of the Myriapoda. Arthropod Structure & Development, 39: 174-190.

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Gorongosa National Park

Last week, I returned from a field trip to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. This trip included field work to collect millipedes in Gorongosa National Park and a two-week  workshop on arthropod macrophotography.

Doratogonus sp. (Spirostreptida) from Chitengo Campsite, Gorongosa National Park | Picture 2

Gorongosa National Park, at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley in Mozambique, encompasses ~4,000 km-sq of acacia and savanna habitats with sand forests, limestone gorges, and rainforests scattered throughout the park. Mount Gorongosa, in the northwestern section of park, holds a diversity of habitats along its 1,863 m. elevational gradient, including rainforests and waterfalls.

Lake Urema with Mount Gorongosa and Bunga Inselbergs in the distance

I took a flight from Washington to Johannesburg, South Africa, and then to Beira, Mozambique. Finally, I boarded a 10-seater prop-plane to Chitengo Campsite in Gorongosa National Park where we landed on a surprisingly smooth grass landing strip (movie, 29.4 MB).

Savanna and a Fever tree with its green photosynthetic bark in the background (left)

Most of the habitat in Gorongosa National Park is savanna with pockets of unique habitats—typically more mesic ones—sprinkled throughout. Termite mounds, like this one (pictured below), foster the growth of trees and a shaded ecosystem where leaf litter accumulates and soil dwelling animals persist. These termite hill thickets were great for polydesmidan millipedes, amphisbaenians, and snails.

Termite mound (~3 m. tall)

Cubitermes termite queen

A caterpillar of the tineid moth Paraclystis integer (left), an inquiline of the termite Schedorhinotermes lamanianu (right). Identifications from Piotr Naskrecki.

While at Gorongosa, I encountered a bonanza of life. While the warthogs, vervets, and baboons were very endearing and roamed just a few steps from my door, the smaller animals were the most fascinating. Here are a few below, and there are more in the next post. (Note: I’m still working on identifications for most of them, and will update soon. If you know any identifications, please leave a comment!)

Jumping spider, Hyllus? (family Salticidae)

Blister beetle, Mylabris? (family Meloidae). I definitely would not touch this beetle.

Stalk-eyed flies, Diasemopsis?, mating (family Diopsidae) | Picture 2 | Picture 3

Grasshopper nymph (family Acrididae)

Microdontine hoverfly larva in ant nest (family Syrphidae)

Praying mantis (order Mantodea)

Flatty spider (family Selenopidae) taken with 365 nm UV light showing blue fluorescence

Male and female dragonflies

Phanaeus sp. scarab beetle (Scarabaeidae)

Cockroach nymph and ant on a Fever tree trunk

Assassin bug (family Reduviidae)

Millipede in an ant nest (family Julidae)

Net-winged beetle (family Lycidae). This one had a cool snout.

Bug nymphs (family Scutellaridae)

Ctenodesmine millipede Orodesminus n. sp. (family Oxydesmidae)

This was the millipede I was looking for. This is a species of polydesmidan cyanide-producing millipedes in the family Oxydesmidae. The family is characterized, in part, by little “eye” brows above their antennae. (Eye is in parentheses because these millipedes are blind, and haven’t had eyes in > 200 million years.) This particular oxydesmid has horns on its rings, which are noticeable on the first few rings (and on the photos here and here).

The millipede was discovered by Norima Niumtu, a student in the Gorongosa Biodiversity Science Education Program. Thanks Norima!

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Gorongosa National Park (part 2)

Amphisbaenian worm lizard

Dung roller beetle (family Scarabaeidae)

Giant pill millipede (family Sphaerotheriidae) | Picture 2

Scorpion (genus Uroplectes?)—likely rather venomous judging by its fat tail and thin pincers (family Buthidae)

Water measurer (family Hydrometridae)

Armored Katydid nymphs (Enyaliopsis sp., family Tettigoniidae). Image of adult.

Ceroplastes sp. scale insect (family Coccidae) tended by ant

Blister? beetle (family Meloidae)

Mantid? ootheca (order Mantodea)

Toothpick grasshopper (family Acrididae)

Jumping spider (family Salticidae)

Velvet ant (family Mutillidae)

Tortoise beetle (family Chrysomelidae)

Centipede (family Scolopendridae), perhaps missing its terminal legs

Lynx spider (family Oxyopidae) with great camouflage

Mayfly (order Ephemeroptera)

Metallic wood boring beetle (family Buprestidae)

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In the field: Clinch Mountain, Virginia

Chaetaspis albus Bollman, 1887 from Clinch Mountain, Virginia

Last Monday, we traveled to Mendota, Virginia to search for the millipede Rhysodesmus restans Hoffman, 1998. The species is one of two Appalachian representatives of the genus, and otherwise known from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas south to El Salvador (Shelley, 1999). Unfortunately, we didn’t find R. restans but collected some other interesting taxa, including the macrosternodesmid millipede Chaetaspis albus.

The polydesmidan millipede Chaetaspis albus and ectoparasitic mites visible on the head and leg-pairs 7 and 9.

Chaetaspis albus, male (top) and female (bottom). The male appears larger in body size than the female, which is unusual for most arthropods.

Male Chaetaspis albus (ventral view) and its very “macrosternodesmid-looking” gonopods on the seventh segment. Shear and Reddell (2017) suggest that the European genus Macrosternodesmus may even be a synonym of Chaetaspis based on similarity of their gonopods.

Jackson Means (left) and Derek Hennen (right) collecting millipedes in the genus Nannaria at Fugate Gap on Clinch Mountain, Virginia.


Bollman C. H. (1887). New genus and species Polydesmidae. Entomologica Americana, 3: 45-46. (link)

Hoffman, R. L. (1998). An Appalachian species of Rhysodesmus (Polydesmida: Xystodesmidae: Rhysodesmini). Myriapodologica, 5: 77-83. (link)

Shear, W. A. & J. M. Reddell (2017). Cave millipedes of the United States. XIV. Revalidation of the genus Speorthus Chamberlin, 1952 (Diplopoda, Polydesmida, Macrosternodesmidae), with a description of a new species from Texas and remarks on the families Polydesmidae and Macrosternodesmidae in North America. Insecta Mundi, 0529: 1-13. (link)

Shelley, R. M. (1999). A second East-Nearctic species of Rhysodesmus Cook (Polydesmidae: Xystodesmidae). Myriapodologica, 6: 19-22. (link)

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