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How to Keep Millipedes & Centipedes

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 16 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Millipedes Centipedes Pets Exotic Pets

Millipedes and to a lesser extent, centipedes have quite a following, being very popular and readily available exotic pets.

The demands of both are fairly modest, making them quite straightforward to care for, but it’s important to remember that although millipedes and centipedes do look superficially quite similar, they are two quite different kinds of animal – so their needs are not the same.

Housing Millipedes And Centipedes

Although there are species of both kinds of animal to be found in the UK, generally the varieties kept as exotic pets come from the world’s warmer places – and grow to spectacularly bigger sizes than anything encountered under a British rock! This, of course means that you’ll need to provide them with a little extra heat to keep them in good health. Heat mats tend to be the solution favoured by most keepers – and of course all the usual warning about not heating the whole of the bottom of the tank to allow its inhabitants to suit themselves as to exactly how warm they need to be.

The actual container itself doesn’t need to be particularly elaborate for either millipedes or centipedes; any suitably sized aquarium or plastic container will do – a see-through plastic lunch box with some small ventilation holes is ideal. The only absolute must is a secure lid, since both species are surprisingly strong and can push anything too flimsy aside if the mood takes them to see what lies outside the confines of their home.

For millipedes – which can be kept in community tanks – the container should be about as wide as the length of the largest individual it will house, and at least twice as long. Centipedes need a tank of at least the same relative size – but taller, to prevent these swift and agile animals from scurrying out if you take the lid off. Bear in mind each one you keep will need its own home – centipedes are not sociable beasts!

Most millipedes commonly offered for sale come from the warm forests of Africa, Central America or Southeast Asia and so high humidity is called for, which is often easiest to achieve by regular misting of the tank from a hand spray. Adding a small water bowl or water soaked pad – many pet shops sell purpose made sponges for this job – also helps maintain humidity as well as obviously giving the animals a drinking place. Sterilised potting compost or sphagnum moss makes good flooring material, especially since most species like to hide by burrowing down during the day, to emerge and forage at night.

For forest-dwelling centipedes, the same kind of arrangement will suit them too, while any desert species will need a drier, sandier environment – with a few rocks or stones added to make hiding places.

Food And Feeding

Feeding habits are one of the major differences between these two types of animals, with millipedes being gentle herbivores and centipedes active – and highly aggressive – hunters. Although some kinds of millipede can be a bit fussy in their diet, most have remarkably wide tastes, happily grazing on all manner of things including vegetable peelings, dead leaves, over-ripe fruit, salad leaves and mushrooms. Ask your dealer for a recommended diet, but it’s also worthwhile experimenting a little to see what your animals seem to like.

Millipedes need fairly large amounts of calcium in their diet to stay healthy, so it’s a good idea to put a cuttlefish bone – the sort widely sold for caged birds – in their tank. Some keepers also add a little fish food or rabbit flakes from time to time to meet their other mineral requirements.

By contrast, centipedes, will eat just about anything smaller than themselves, which generally makes them fairly easy to cater for in captivity – the usual diet of crickets, mealworms and assorted garden-caught bugs will be readily consumed. Most kinds can be relied upon to feed well, while the appetite of the various species of Scolopendra is legendary!

Handling Your Pets

Although millipedes are harmless vegetarians, many kinds produce a toxic skin secretion as a form of chemical defence and in some varieties this can be very strong, so washing your hands after touching them is clearly important.

Centipedes, on the other hand, are armed with forcipules – a pair of curved jaw-like claws – through which it pumps venom into its prey, or your fingers if the occasion arises and the venom of many of the commonly kept Scolopendra sp. is very potent. Handling these animals, many of which can grow to 9 inches (22cm) or more in length, calls for protective gloves at the very least – and is best kept to a minimum.

Tropical millipedes and centipedes are some of the most popular exotic pets and with their “giant” size, intriguing habits and remarkably simple needs, it’s not hard to see why.

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