I thought birds didn't eat millipedes


Yes, I thought that birds didn't eat millipedes on account of their toxicity. Most millipedes (including the little species we have here in Britain) secrete noxious liquid through glands on their sides, and substances such as chlorine, iodine and cyanide are involved. As is obvious from the photo here, these chemicals don't make millipedes immune to attack from birds. After checking the literature I see that toads and hedgehogs also don't seem deterred by millipede toxins. However, other predators probably are, and toads and hedgehogs are actually unusual in being able to eat to tolerate highly toxic prey.

The photo shows a bird dropping on the top of our compost bin and, no, I can't identify the dropping to species. The millipede seems to have been eaten whole. It's a White-legged snake millipede or Black millipede Tachypodoiulus niger: we have a pretty good little colony in our garden. They're very neat little animals.

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While living in the Congo, I noticed that while most of the chickens we kept did not eat the millipedes, every now and then there would be a chicken that ate them more or less regularly.

Those were the giant millipedes.

Did anyone dare to eat such a chicken� Do they manage to accumulate the poison?

By David MarjanoviÄ, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2009 #permalink

wow, I never knew millipedes were so toxic, I thought they were the friendly 'cousins' to millipedes. I know a couple of people who keep millipedes as pets too :/

Red Ruffed Lemurs actively hunt millipedes - not for food but to protect their young. They chew them up and smear the result on their small young before leaving them parked on a branch - presumably rendering their babies bad tasting to predators like the fossa.

presumably rendering their babies bad tasting to predators like the fossa.

or possibly to repel ectoparasites.

Saw a meerkat eat one on TV.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 04 Jul 2009 #permalink

The one thing I'm sqeamish about is bird poo. I find it deeply ugly and queasy-making. I happily point out mammal crap to my girlfriend and am unphased by ice-cream tub squirrel corpse mash body farming pics.

But that millipede squit means I'll be checking Tet Zoo gingerly for a week. I am weak.

Oh well. You win some, you lose some. Not sure why I'm replying - you won't be reading :)

The bird appears to have voided the millipede before digesting it completely. Perhaps digestion was too unpleasant. No benefit to the victim, but might the bird have learned to avoid such nasties in the future? (Recalling the famous picture of a bluejay eating a monarch butterfly and almost immediately vomiting it up.)