May I introduce, the Yellow Spotted Millipede?
This brightly speckled little mulch muncher plays a vital role in the redistribution of organic material in the forest ecosystem. As is often true in nature, bright colors warn of danger, and indeed, this critter is protected by toxic cyanide. The amount secreted is not normally medically significant to humans, and in fact, some naturalists will shake the millipede in their hand to evoke the almond smelling substance. However, contact with eyes, mouth, or nose can result in painful reactions so touch really should be avoided. These critters are immune to their own secretions because of their ability to convert the toxin to harmless chemicals.
Because of their toxins, they have very few predators so they can consume vast amounts of food. This ONE species of millipede can consume up to 50 percent of the dead leaves and conifer leaves on the forest floor. They have a wonderful symbiotic partner in the task – microscopic fungi that live in the hind gut of the millipedes, helping them to break down the plant material. Both the millipedes and the fungi benefit from the relationship. The millipede produces fecal pellets of undigested nutrients and the fungi grow upon the surface of the pellets, to be re-eaten by the millipede who receives extra nutrients from the fungi. The whole process of recycling increases the availability of the leaf litter’s nutrients by 40,000-fold! Nutrients are used to the maximum benefit, matter is recycled back into the soil, and nothing is wasted.
And here’s a fun fact… guess which animal was first to evolve from the oceans into a land loving life? The millipede! ❤️
Nature’s chemistry at its best!