Can You Eat A Millipede? Solving World Hunger By Investigating their Edibility

Eating bugs as delicacies is very common, so can you eat a millipede too? The answer is not quite simple, so let’s understand why eating millipedes might not be a great idea.

Did you know that more than 800 million people go to bed at night without having had a proper meal?

Our aversion to insects, worms, larvae, and other invertebrates is something innate in most humans, which is why the mere thought of eating them is revolting to us.

But the fact is that most of them are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and water and are low on carbs.

Many of them can make an excellent food source if we are only willing to keep an open mind. Let’s talk about millipedes and whether they can be good food sources for humans.

Can You Eat A Millipede? Truth Revealed.

Have Millipedes Been Eaten Anywhere Historically?

Many countries in the world do not seem to share the western revulsion to earth-bound creatures such as millipedes, grubs, and worms.

For example, people in many countries already use more than 1,000 species of insects as food. These include several species of butterflies, moths, ants, wasps, bees, beetles, crickets, roaches, cicadas, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and so on.

More than two bn people eat them across the world.

However, millipedes have not been part of human cuisine traditionally. The reason behind this is their unique chemical defense – they secrete chemicals that contain toxins unsafe for humans on touch. Some of them can even squirt these toxins over a distance.

Unlike millipedes, centipedes have often been part of local cuisine in countries like China, Korea, and Venezuela. Some countries even use them for medicinal purposes.

Can You Eat A Millipede? Truth Revealed.

Do Animals, Birds, and Other Bugs Eat Millipedes?

Due to their unique chemical defense, millipedes have been successful in evading most predators. However, that doesn’t make them top of the food chain.

There are birds, rodents, and insects that can eat these bugs, toxins or no toxins. In fact, some predators have evolved to feed specifically on millipedes, such as assassin bugs and beetle larvae.

The assassin bug has its own cocktail of toxic fumes, which can counteract those of the millipedes and create an even more powerful venom for others around them.

Meanwhile, the bug impales the poor millipede and liquefies its interior, sucking out the juice and then carrying the corpse on its back as a trophy.

Apart from insects, birds are also in on the millipede hunting act. Some birds use these millipedes as insect repellant since it contains benzoquinones.

This behavior is also called “anting” because, in most cases, it is the ants that become the repellants for birds.

Another unique set of animals who eat millipedes includes gophers, lemurs, opossum, mongooses, skunks, etc.

Some of these guys, such as lemurs, also get high off the millipede’s toxins. Watch if you don’t believe us:

Use of Millipedes as Food by Humans

Despite all their defenses, one set of humans has found these millipedes to be delicacies to their liking. These are the Bobo community of Burkina Faso.

The Bobo people are munching down on millipedes from two different families: Spirostreptidae and Gomphodesmidae.

Gomphodesmidae (flat-backed millipedes) are native to Africa and consist of a set of 146 species. The particular subspecies that has been at the receiving end of the human tastebuds is called the Tymbodesmus Falcatus.

The second species is Sphenodesmus Sheribongensis, a species only found in Ghana, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast before the recent discovery in Burkina Faso.

Both these species live for approximately two years, and their adults are found easily on the soil surface, especially when the rainy season starts.

Can You Eat A Millipede? Truth Revealed.

Are These Millipedes Nutritious?

The researchers who studied these millipede-eating people analyzed the nutritional content of the Tymbodesmus Falcatus species of millipedes.

The results were fairly good: about 25% protein (by dry matter), extremely high calcium content (17.4% of dry weight), and 40% unsaturated fatty acids of total fatty acids.

As compared to many other edible insects, the fatty acid content of millipedes is lower, and the calcium content is supremely high. Eating about 12-13 of these small-sized bugs is enough to meet your daily dietary requirement of calcium.

Moreover, another important mineral present in these bugs is iron: they have so much iron that eating just six of them is enough for the daily requirements of a pregnant woman.

The outer exoskeleton added about 5% chitin by dry weight, and only a trace amount of Dimethylcyanide was found in their bodies.

Overall, the millipedes seem to be quite nutritious, as per the research.

What About Toxins?

Despite the fact that there were no toxins observed during the research, it does not mean that these millipedes don’t contain any.

Gomphodesmidae are cyanogenic millipedes (the ones that produce cyanide-containing toxins). There is no evidence to show as of now that they can’t produce it when needed.

Their glands are pretty much the same as the rest of their family, so no one can say for sure that these bugs are safe to eat.

That doesn’t seem to be causing any distress to the Bobo people, though – during the rainy season; this bug is so easily available that they just can’t resist eating it.

Can You Eat A Millipede? Truth Revealed.

Do Any Other Edible Bugs Contain Cyanide or Toxins?

Glad you asked! Because the answer will shock you: more than 2,000 species of plants contain toxins like cyanide in them, and humans have been eating these plants for a very long time!

For example, the cassava (yuca) crop is a staple food in the tropical regions of Africa, and most of its bitter varieties contain enough cyanide to kill a human being.

Even in America, cassava is often sold in the form of tapioca pearls, and its most famous processed product is tapioca!

The trick to eating these foods, which humans have learned the hard way, is to boil them before eating. Boiling releases the toxins in them in the form of hydrogen cyanide, thus rendering the leftover product safe to eat.

And that’s how the Bobo people are eating their millipedes as well – by boiling them first.

Unfortunately, the other major toxin that is present in them (benzoquinones) does not go away simply by boiling. And more importantly, not all cyanide is removed simply by boiling the millipedes in water.

How Do the African People Survive Eating Millipedes?

If the above discussion has left you scratching your head, you have a good reason for it. The truth is that African populations have been consuming stuff like toxic cassava and other bitter food items that would make most people outside the continent violently sick.

You may call it an adaptation to their surroundings or simply the characteristics of a hardened life, but the fact remains that it is unlikely you can pick up millipedes from your garden, boil them and eat them, and live to survive the tale.

In fact, the harsh life of Sub-saharan Africa might actually have caused these people to adapt to benzoquinones as a beneficial toxin – this chemical helps repel mosquitos, as we already explained.

Burkina Faso is one of the biggest centers of malaria epidemics, so any immunity to mosquitos is a welcome gift for them. There is even research to prove that small amounts of cyanide might also be helping them protect themselves from malaria.

Perhaps, eating toxic millipedes is just one part of this entirely biological defense mechanism that these people have developed over the years.

Can You Eat A Millipede? Truth Revealed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are millipedes edible?

While they are certainly edible, they aren’t what you would want to eat.
The presence of toxins such as cyanides and benzoquinones in millipedes can be fatal for most humans, so there is no reason why you should try eating them unless you are from a sub-Saharan tribe.

Can you get sick from millipedes?

Oh yes, very much so. Millipedes secrete toxins as a defense mechanism to ward off prey. When humans touch them, the same toxins can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and a host of other problems.
If you touch your eyes after handling a millipede, your eyes can redden, and you might also develop conjunctivitis.

Can you eat a giant millipede?

No. As we said, millipedes are dangerous, including the giant millipedes. These giant bugs do have another use for humans, though.
They make for great pets and are also one of the best cleanup crews for clearing your garden of mulch, dead leaves, organic matter, and other detritus.

Which is poisonous centipede or millipede?

Millipedes are not poisonous; centipedes are. Millipedes secrete a toxin from the sides of their bodies which can cause humans a lot of discomforts, but they aren’t directly poisonous.
Moreover, millipedes are very non-aggressive. They won’t bite or hurt you in any way.

Wrap Up

While eating bugs as delicacies is far more common than we tend to think, some bugs can be dangerous if we consume them indiscriminately.

Millipedes secrete toxins as part of their defense mechanism, and these toxins are dangerous to humans. If you are planning to eat them, don’t!

Your average joe won’t survive eating a millipede. There are tribes in Africa who do eat them. But they have evolved a resistance to such toxins due to biocultural reasons.

Thank you for reading!

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

2 thoughts on “Can You Eat A Millipede? Solving World Hunger By Investigating their Edibility”

  1. lol people in the sub saharan dont eat them ….that sounds offensive…why dont you mention indians instead

    Reply

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