Derivation of scientific name: ‘Millipede’ is derived from Latin, where ‘milli’ meaning ‘thousand’ and ‘ped’ meaning foot. Nevertheless, millipedes do not have a thousand legs as per their name suggest, except for one species, Eumillipes persephone, which can have over 1 300 legs. Millipedes are Myriapods, which means they have long segmented bodies, short heads and multiple pairs of legs, which are their most obvious feature. The ringed red millipede’s scientific name is Centrobolus anulatus, the latter referring to the transversely annulated trunk or body hence the name.

Common names: ringed red millipede (Eng.); shongololo (isiZulu/isiXhosa); mogokolodi (Sepedi), khongoloti (Xitsonga).

Ringed red millipedes are brightly coloured millipedes found in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. They do not vary much from other species in the genus Centrobolus in terms of size and weight range. This detritivorous millipede is mostly spotted in forests and inland of coastal areas in KwaZulu-Natal.

They are not dangerous (they do not bite or transfer disease) and they are considered friendly; however, when threatened they coil up into a ball and secrete a foul-smelling liquid through the microscopic pores along the sides of their bodies to protect themselves from predators. The secretion is not harmful to humans although it will cause some discolouration on the skin.


Ringed red millipedes elongated, cylinder-shaped bodies with a total length of 40–67 mm and width of about 4.5–7.0 mm. The number of body rings/segments is 21 in males and 16 in females, although females are larger than males in terms of length and width.

The body of a ringed red millipede is very smooth and shiny with a transversely annulated trunk that is red and black in colour. The legs are black and long and the last 16 pairs of legs in male lacks the tarsal pads (adhesive structures). Head and antennae are also black.

Getting around

The ringed red millipede is a slow moving species; they usually crawl on forest beds and on tree trunks and they have ability to burrow in soil and leaf litter.


By releasing pheromones and hormones, millipedes communicate with each other. When a millipede emits these pheromones, it may be time to mate.


The ringed red millipedes are found in a relatively narrow part of the KwaZulu-Natal coast, from Ntunzini in the north to Mbengu Forest in the south, and inland to Westville. This species is endemic to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.


Ringed red millipedes occur mostly in coastal forests and favours vegetation growing on a sandy dune substratum. They are also recorded in degraded open spaces and in suburban gardens.


The ringed red millipede is a detritivore, feeding on decaying matter and leaf litter. 



The red ringed millipede reproduces sexually. The male has both pairs of legs on the seventh segment modified into gonopods. These structures are used during copulation where the spermatophores is transferred into the vulva of the female. Females lay eggs into the soil or detritus where incomplete metamorphosis take place. The life cycle consists of three stages, the eggs, the instar and the adult stage. After the egg hatch, the emerged young possess three sets of legs. The formation of gonopods occurs over the course of multiple nymphal stages and moults before the final adult form. Their lifespan is often several years, and growth and consequent moulting continues until adulthood.

Family life

This species lives a fairly solitary live, and they do not practice parental care. After mating the male will take no further part in family life. Females lay eggs in the soil and then abandon them.


Friends and foes

Animals such as frogs, lizards, birds, shrews and civets feed on millipede species. There are mites that are also found on millipedes and the relationship between the two species are considered phoretic (a temporary commensalistic relationship when an organism attaches itself to a host organism solely for travel purposes)– the mites thus using the millipede as a means of transportation or for dispersal. Monkeys and lemurs use millipedes’ toxin/secretion as insect or parasite repellent.

Smart strategies

Ringed red millipedes are terrestrial and are mostly active during the day. Their body is covered with a smooth, hard exoskeleton making them difficult to grasp. They hide under logs, rocks and leaf litter and when threatened they curl up, protecting the head and legs and produce a poisonous substance (hydrogen cyanide) or foul-smelling secretion to protect themselves from predators.

The bright colour is also a tactic to possibly scare off predators. Another strategy of escaping predators is by moving away in a gliding, snake-like motion to scare off predators.

Poorer world without me

Ringed red millipedes are veterans of the soil ecosystem. They are important ecologically as they are involved in nutrient cycling, one of the processes for soil fertility by decomposing decaying plant materials.

The species is considered a soil specialist, living in the ground among leaf litter and under the soil. They are adapted to moist or humid conditions; thus, the forest floor provides this species with favourable environment/habitat. Hence millipedes can be used as bioindicators for soil ecosystem health.

People and I

Millipedes have direct importance to humans. There are studies that confirm the use of millipedes in traditional medicine and as food.

Conversation status and what the future holds

High-density housing and tourism development as well as agriculture and factories have led to the loss or degradation of ringed red millipedes’ habitat. The remaining natural habitat of this species is degraded by alien invasive plants and pollution. Hence the ringed red millipede survives in protected areas and suburban gardens. Therefore, the ringed red millipede might be Endangered according to IUCN Red List criteria and future studies on their ecology and distribution should be conducted to conclusively determine their threat status.


Millipedes (Diplopoda) were amongst the earliest known terrestrial arthropods and evidence of this is provided by mid-Silurian fossils of Cowiedesmus eroticopodus deposited in the Australian Museum. The oldest giant millipede, Arthropleura, which was extant for 326 million years have also recently been discovered. The ringed red millipede belongs to genus Centrobolus, which has 35 species. The genus belongs to family Pachybolidea, with four known genera in southern Africa namely Microbolus, Epibolus, Hadrobolus and Centrobolus.

Official common name: Ringed red millipede 

Scientific name and classification:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Myriapoda
Class: Diplopoda
Order: Spirobolida
Family: Pachybolidae
Genus: Centrobolus
Species: C. anulatus (Atterns, 1934)

References and further reading

  • Armstrong, A. & Hamer, M. 2015. English names of the millipedes (Diplopoda) of KwaZulu-Natal. African Invertebrates 56:147–159. Doi: 10.5733/056.0111.
  • Enghoff, H. 2011. East African giant millipedes of the tribe Pachybolini (Diplopoda, Spirobolida, Pachybolidae). Zootaxa 27(53): 1–41.
  • Garwood, M.L. & Edgecombe, G.D. 2011. Early terrestrial animals, evolution and uncertainty. Evolution 4(3): 489–501.
  • Hamer, M.L. & Slotow, R. 2009. A comparison and conservation assessment of the high-altitude grassland and forest-millipede (Diplopoda) fauna of the South African Drakensberg. Soil Organisms 81(3): 701–717.
  • Hoffman, R.L. 1980. Classification of the Diplopoda. Geneva, Switzerland: Muséum d’Historie Naturelle, pp. 1–237.
  • Lawrence, R.F. 1967. The Spiroboloidea (Diplopoda) of the eastern half of southern Africa. Annals of the Natal Museum 18: 607–646.
  • Lawrence, R.F. 1984. The centipedes and millipedes of southern Africa. A guide. Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Mailula, R.P. 2021. Taxonomic revision and Red List assessment of the ‘red millipede’ genus Centrobolus (Spirobolida: Pachybolidae) of South Africa. MSc thesis. University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Authors: Raesetsa Portia Mailula, Thembile Khoza and Ofentse Ntshudisane
Pictures: Peter Vos

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