Every time I visit a forest, I try and understand the location, its vegetation, and some history about the area. During my visit to Shendurney I was very intrigued by the name of the wildlife sanctuary. On asking, I was informed that the name ‘Shendurney’ is derived from the name of a tree called Chenkurnji which only grows in the southern Western Ghats. The tree is tall, with broad leaves and a white bark, and stands out in the forest.
While we were walking through a section of the forest we came across a large creature crawling on the forest floor. Peering down, I discovered that a very large millipede had wandered across our tracks. The millipede was at least eight inches in length! Millipedes are arthropods (creatures with segmented bodies and jointed legs including insects and spiders) which have two pairs of legs on every segment of its body. The Latin meaning of ‘millipede’ is thousand (milli) legs (pes). Of course, in reality, no millipede actually has a thousand legs. Most have a few hundred legs, though one species found in California, USA has 750 legs!
The millipede we found had approximately 170 legs (yes, I counted!). The red legs of the millipede contrasted with its black body. When I touched the millipede, it curled up, in order to protect itself. I found that its outer shell (the exoskeleton) was tough — very much like body armour! In addition, the exoskeleton had many studs on it, giving it a very military like appearance. In my mind, I named it the studded millipede!
Millipedes are harmless creatures. They mainly feed on decaying leaves and other waste matter. By doing so, they play a crucial role in the web of life; that of decomposing waste and returning it to the soil as nutrients. When I picked up the millipede and put it on my palm, it immediately poked me. It had a curved hook-like part at the end of its body, which was meant to be part of its defence mechanism. But the ‘poke’ was more of a tickle, and hardly hurt! I should alert my readers here that the millipede should not be confused with the centipede, which has only one pair of legs per segment, and is mostly flat (and not rounded like the millipede). Centipedes are carnivorous. Many of them can bite and their bites can be quite painful. I picked up the millipede, put it on the side of the track, and watched it scurry away. It must have left wondering, “What was this giant predator that peered at me, poked me and let me go free!” The Shendurney Sojourn continues in the next issue...