Friday, October 15, 2010

Purple Finches and a Millipede

Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows and now the Purple Finches.  Winter birds have arrived.  They're at our birdfeeders and everywhere along the Lower Chippewa River.

I heard and saw lots of White-breasted Nuthatches and a late flock of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.  I don't remember when I've seen so many Purple Finches.  This female (above) was in a flock of finches feeding with Black-capped Chickadees on a stand of Giant Ragweed along the Chippewa River Bike Trail north of Durand.  They were scarfing down ragweed seeds.

But I was taken by surprise when I looked down at the leaves along the side of the trail.  That's when  I had a close encounter with a red and black millipede.

I was tempted to pick it up for a closer look, but I didn't.  I couldn't remember if the "red" was a warning that I would regret any close contact.  So I took a picture, and tapped it with a stick to encourage it to roll over.

It didn't cooperate.  Instead, it rolled into a ball.

Leach's Millipede starting its defensive curl
When I got home, I looked it up.  It's a Euryurus leachii, one of around 1,000 millipede species identified in North America.   There may be as many as 80,000 species of millipedes world-wide.

When attacked by predators (birds, rodents, turtles and other insects), millipedes can secrete a venom or hydrogen cyanide gas to repel them.  This can cause skin discoloration and irritations in humans, but nothing serious (unless you rub your eyes after you touch them).

Who eats millipedes?  American Robins, turtles, shrews, insects, frogs and lizards.

According to Dr. Rowland Shelley, a millipede expert at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History, the Leach's millipede is"among the very few North American millipedes that one can deliberately try to find, because they occur almost exclusively in association with decaying hardwood logs & stumps near water sources. They are rarely found in just leaf litter and almost never in association with pines."

And that's exactly where I found this one - near running water in a riparian wetland with numerous decaying hardwood logs and stumps - along the Chippewa River State Trail in Durand, Wisconsin.

1 comment:

  1. Oh that cynical millipede!That was funny, keep writing please! Do something for 2011 now!