millipede love is mysterious and wild

There is an intrinsic value in the boundless wilderness and the complex and varied interactions that characterize and sustain the land. There is a balance to be found within a fluctuating equilibrium, which is more felt than seen, and more an intuitive notion than something overt and held in hand. It is difficult to understand this idea of the intrinsic worth of nature unless you experience it for yourself. However, I am learning that it doesn’t take much space, or time even, to find something interesting…and even quite remarkable.

I’m fascinated these days with snags and deadfall. Today was my second trip to Bemis Woods in Cook County and as I am walking along, I notice a great looking specimen of a tree that has been snapped off about twelve feet up its trunk standing in a marshy clearing at the bottom of a slope leading down from the North side of the trail.

Pink Turtlehead – Genus: Chelone…a Greek nymph turned into a turtle for irritating the gods.

This clearing is fairly open and bright, with other snags and scraggly tangles of branches lying about – a good sign. I am learning that these disturbance zones and transition areas are very lively spaces, so the dog and I make our way down to see what we can see.

I find pink blooming turtleheads, what may be iris, with their sword-like leaves, and an array of arrowheads spread throughout, with their large singular triangular shaped leaves from which they take the name.

I walk over to inspect the rotting trunk, and I notice a couple millipedes ambling about. One is pretty active, while the other seems content nestled within the bark.

As I explore the cracks and crevices, I notice something odd about the active millipede’s movement. He’s moving, and his legs are in motion, but his millifeet aren’t touching the ground. It takes me a while to pick up on this as this anomaly is barely discernible with maybe a 1 or 2 mm of space between his feet and the log. But I look closer, and there you have it: this millipede is riding along on the back of another. His feet are undulating, which creates the illusion that he is walking, but he’s being carried!

millipede love

Ends up that I was privy to millipede love, and what I was witnessing was an ancient courtship. The male rides along, rhythmically caressing the female with his legs until she is suitably aroused, at which point, they coil together, and in some mysterious and primitive dance, he uses his Gonopods (sex-legs!) to transfer his sperm packet over to her..receptacle. It was quite the show.

When I was a kid in North Carolina, our house would get invaded by these things every year. For three weeks, they’d be all over the house…and in the mailbox.  They smell horribly when disturbed or crushed, but I had never seen this.

There is always something more to be seen than what immediately appears before you. I have learned this lesson again and again, and I am always surprised when I learn it anew. On this day, I can say that I saw something that I’ve never seen before, something completely new and unexpected. This seems pretty worthwhile.

5 thoughts on “millipede love is mysterious and wild

  1. Love it! I think you have inspired me to get back out in the woods! I did that a lot when the boys were young. I’ll have to get back out there!

  2. Love this! Maybe the third millipede felt awkward, which is why he was just chillin in the cracks, trying to remain unseen.

    Also – “a Greek nymph turned into a turtle for irritating the gods”…beautiful flower, awesome name. Thanks for sharing the history!

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