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Narceus millipedes

    Although seldom noticed, the Narceus millipede may be found moving about through earth and leaves in most deciduous forests. The species which we find in Ontario is Narceus annularis, a large and colourful millipede which grows to about 8 to 10 cm (3 to 4 in.) in length. They are most easily seen in late summer and early autumn when they seem to spend more time wandering the forest floor. Unfortunately, this is also when we find many of them crushed on trails, probably accidentally trodden upon by hiker. August and September have also been the months when we've found pairs mating, so perhaps that explains why there seem to be so many about at that time of the year.

    In spring, while searching through leaf litter, I sometimes find small groups of millipedes, coiled and looking a bit like thick, burgundy, over-sized wooden checkers. They are curled with head at the center (as in the above photo). When they are disturbed while on the move, they will curl up in this way.

    Some have described these large cylindrical-shaped millipedes as "walking compost-makers" as they spend much time eating organic materials such as decaying leaves as well as mosses. In fact, I have most frequently found them eating wet mosses, so that may be a favourite food. The above photo is of a millipede consuming moss.

    Millipedes probably consume other organic materials as well. In August 2005, I stopped to photograph a millipede and then noticed another smaller individual nearby (it looks to be another species -- possibly an immature Sigmoria). Upon closer inspection, I found that the two seemed to be feeding on or around the decomposed remains of a bird (see above photo).

    Continued on Page Two.