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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
While millipedes may not solve world hunger, it is certainly interesting that people can eat them in certain communities. Over the years, many of our readers have pondered similar questions, and we are attaching some of their mails below.
Letter 1 – Hellgrammite and Millipede
the strangest bug i’ve ever seen in my life!
I was hiking at McConell’s Mills in Western Pennsylvania and happened across this bug sitting in the middle of the street. It appears to me to be some sort of beetle larva, but it’s SO big. It also had this fancy move it did when we touched its head with a stick – it would curl its tail under [which was soft like a catepillar’s body] to quickly launch itself backward a few inches. Here it is pictured with my boyfriend’s finger [who, for scale, is 6’4″]. And here is another better picture of its face. I also have a video i took of it walking and doing its cool backwards launch maneuver, which you can have if you’re interested. PLEASE tell us what kind of bug this is. We’re absolutely dying to know. I almost regret not taking it home with me! I just hope it didn’t wander back into the middle of the road. Thanks!
Jen and Glenn
ps. We also found a bunch of these really pretty red and black millipedes, which i’ve included a picture of. They were about 4 inches long.
Hi Jen and Glenn,
You have just encounted a Hellgrammite, the larval form of the Dobsonfly. These curious larvae are prized by fishermen as bait. Your millipede is indeed quite beautiful.
Update: (01/20/2008) Millipede IDs
6/6/05 . W PA Narceus americanus .
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 2 – Millipede
Help quickly please! Centipede or millipede? Dog may have been bitten!
My dog was acting rather strangely, laying down and rubbing his mouth on the floor, much like when you give a dog spicey food. Anyways I looked over and I saw this brown bug crawling accross the floor. Immeditely I captured it and took these pictures. As I understand a millipede is not harmful, but a centipede is, and I’d like to know what this is. When it crawled it was like its legs were moving like waves. and was roughly an inch, to an inch and a half long. Please help me out on this, I’m afraid if my dog did get bitten by this. To possibly help out more I live in Arizona near a mountain preserve, so there’s wild landscapping.
You have sent in a photo of a millipede, and though they do not bite, according to Hogue: “If disturbed, a millipede will coil up like a watch sprint; many species also exude fluids that stain the skin and have a repugnant odor that has been dcompared to iodine, quinine, or chlorine. The fluids commonly are benzoquinones and other chemicals that evaporate rapidly and act as repellents against predators. Certain millipedes produce cyanide fumes.” I would venture to guess your dog just got a bad taste in his mouth.
Update: (01/20/2008) Millipede IDs
11/12/04 . AZ Colactis sp. (Callipodida: Schizopetalidae)
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 3 – Lesvian Millipedes
Unknown Bug on Lesvos Greece
I was wondering if you could help me identify a bug. Attached is a
picture of an unknown bug I found on my mothers farm in Greece.
Your Lesvian Millipedes are surely beautiful. They can be distinguished from centipedes as millipedes have two legs per segment. Sorry, we am not familiar with all the exotica of Lesvos, and do not have a species name, but we will continue to research the matter.
Update: (01/20/2008) Greece millipedes
While scrolling through sites tonight, I came across yours, and I can answer many of the questions, though it is late. Anyhow, there are two pictures of a lovely black millipede fro, Greece with bright yellow spots down the midbody and yellow-spottwed margins. This is a species of Melaphe (order Polydesmida: family Xystodesmidae).
Rowland Shelley ,North Carolina State Museum of Natural Science
Letter 4 – Harvestman scavenges Millipede
Subject: Spider from Serbia
Location: Serbia, Tara mountain.
August 13, 2012 2:34 pm
these pictures of spider were taken in Serbia, Tara mountain ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tara_%28mountain%29 ) near Lake Zaovine.
You did not provide much background on this photograph, so we will speculate. This is not a Spider. It is a Harvestman or Daddy-Long-Legs in the Arachnid order Opiliones. Harvestmen are scavengers that will eat dead creatures as well as plant material. It appears the Millipede in this photo was a casualty of some accident and the Harvestman appears to be feeding upon the corpse.
Letter 5 – Millipede
Subject: Giant Millipede?
Location: Gold Run, CA
March 11, 2013 7:43 pm
Assuming this is a Giant Millipede, although I know ”Giant” is in the eye of the beholder! He/She was very calm and attractive – once my little girls got over their fear they had a lot of fun. No distinguishing colors other than shades of grey. Turned him/her loose in the overgrowth after taking a pic – any info would be great! Thanks again, love your website!
Signature: Whitnei B.
Since most Millipedes are much smaller, calling this a giant Millipede makes perfect sense. We are uncertain how many different species of large Millipedes can be found in northern California, and most likely even scientists are certain how many species can be found. According to our favorite source for information on southern California “bugs”, Charles Hogue’s Insects of the Los Angeles Basin: “Several species live in the basin; most are small and inconspicuous. But two closely related species, Hiltonius pulchrus and Tylobolus claremontus, are very large (exceeding 3 in., or 8 cm, in length) and a third species, Atopetholus californicus (=angelus), is only slight smaller (up to 2 in., or 50mm). All are otherwise similar, with cylindrical shiny black, dark gray , or brown bodies.” The genus Hiltonius is represented on BugGuide Tylobolus is also represented on BugGuide and Atopetholus can be found on BugGuide as well. We can’t say for certain if your Millipede is in one of those genera or if it is in a different classification.
Letter 6 – Millipede
Subject: Is this a Railroad Worm?
Location: Birmingham, AL
May 31, 2013 9:44 pm
My kids and I found this large and leggy bug this morning (May 31) in Birmingham, Alabama. It was about the same length as a granola bar (see photo). A friend suggested that it might be a Railroad Bug. Can you identify it for me? I have never seen anything like it!
Signature: Elizabeth Mitchell
This is not a Railroad Worm which is the larva of a Glowworm. This is a Millipede and we believe we have correctly identified it as Pachydesmus crassicutis thanks to images posted on BugGuide where it is reported from nearby Tennessee and Mississippi. We are postdating your submission to go live in early June during our holiday from the office.
Letter 7 – Millipede
Subject: insect found on back porch
Location: Mechanicsburg, PA
December 15, 2013 6:14 pm
Is it possible to identify the insect in the picture
Signature: Gary T. Schenk
This is a Millipede, and it is not an insect. Insects have three pairs of legs and Millipedes, which belong to the class Diplopoda, have from 47 to 375 pairs of legs, according to BugGuide. Millipedes generally feed on decaying plant material. They roll into a ball to defend themselves as your one image illustrates.
Thank you very much
Merry Christmas to you and yours
Letter 8 – Millipede
Subject: What is this?
March 9, 2014 2:35 pm
I found a couple of these in my bathroom and can’t seem to find out what they are. Can you identify this? If you could email me with an answer or any info that would be great. Thanks.
We believe we have identified your Millipede as Brachycybe rosea, based on photos posted to BugGuide.
Letter 9 – Millipede
Subject: Slug with legs?
Location: North Eastern Kansas
October 15, 2014 5:39 am
Not sure what this is? I thought it was a slug but it has legs. Maybe just a slimy centipede?
Signature: Thank you
This is an omnivorous Millipede, not a predatory Centipede. Millipedes feed on decaying organic matter. This statement from BugGuide surprised us as we were not aware that any Millipedes were considered carnivorous: “Most eat decaying plant material, but a few spp. occasionally can be carnivorous. Some may also occasionally eat living plants.”
Letter 10 – Millipede
Subject: Madrone wood bug
Location: Northern California
November 22, 2015 3:59 pm
I see this bug in our madrone firewood & was wondering what it is
We believe we have correctly identified your Millipede as Brachycybe rosea based on images posted to BugGuide where it states: “Found typically under rotting oak lying on soil. I found these both in Cool (El Dorado County) and Fair Oaks (Sacramento County) but only collected in Cool.”