Cyanide Millipede

Here’s a resident of woodlands and forests here along the BC coast that some people love and others hate – simply because of the way they move, their name or just because it’s a ‘creepy-crawly’ that makes them shiver. The Cyanide Millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana) is so named because it does in fact produce ‘cyanide’, (hydrogen cyanide), as part of it’s defensive mechanisms against predators. Also called the ‘Yellow-spotted’ or ‘Almond Scented’ millipede, they can often be found amongst dead or decaying wood on the forest floor – one of their favourite food sources. Other foods include dying plants, leaves and moss and even soil itself, which can often hold vital decaying matter. The spots on the sides of the black outer shell are ‘keep off’ signs, intended to warn predators they should not tackle them as they are poisonous. When threatened, they will curl up in to a tight coil and will secrete the cyanide substance, which some say has the smell of roasted almonds. The cyanide from one of these millipedes is just enough to kill a bird or rodent, but will do little harm to humans unless ultra-sensitive to the poison – but I wouldn’t go ingesting it if I was you though!

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