Major black millipede (Doratogonus major)

GenusDoratogonus (1)

The major black millipede is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Like other members of the genus Doratogonus, the major black millipede is a rather large-bodied and conspicuous African millipede (1). Doratogonus species are generally black or blackish-brown in colour, often with brown or yellowish legs and antennae (2), and are most reliably distinguished from each other by the male’s gonopods (specially modified legs for the transfer of sperm) (2) (3). The major black millipede has the typical millipede form, with a body composed of numerous hard, ring-like segments, each of which bears two pairs of legs, except the first and last, which are legless, and the second, third and fourth, which possess only a single pair. There is a single pair of simple, chewing mouthparts (maxillae), a single pair of antennae, and ‘eyes’ that consist of large numbers of simple, light-detecting lenses known as ocelli (4) (5).

The major black millipede is known only from Gwaliweni Forest in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (1).

The major black millipede is known from a forest area of only 11 square kilometres (1), and is unlikely to survive in grassland where woody vegetation is lacking (6). Like other, related species, it is likely to be found in leaf litter or beneath stones or logs (5), although detailed information on its ecology is lacking.

Little information is available on the biology of the major black millipede. However, like most other millipedes, it is likely to be slow-moving, burrowing through soil and leaf litter and feeding on plant material, generally preferring leaves that have already been partly decomposed by bacteria and fungi. Food is chewed using the stout mouthparts, while receptors on the antennae allow the millipede to feel objects and detect chemical signals in the environment (4) (5). Being slow-moving, millipedes rely on the hard exoskeleton and on chemical secretions for defence (5).

In most millipedes, reproduction involves the transfer of sperm from the male to the female using one or more specially modified pairs of legs, known as gonopods. The female may then lay the eggs in a prepared nest, but usually leaves them to hatch alone. The young hatch into a legless ‘pupoid’ stage, possessing only around seven body segments, and then pass through various stages, known as stadia, adding more body segments, legs and ocelli at each stage (4) (5). The major black millipede is thought to take at least two years to reach maturity (1).

The single, tiny forest area in which the major black millipede occurs is under threat from the extraction of wood by the local community for fuel and building, and its population is also likely to be small, putting it at increased risk of extinction (1).

The Gwaliweni Forest is managed by KZN Wildlife, although wood extraction there continues (1). No specific conservation measures are known to be in place for the major black millipede, and, despite having an important role in ecosystems as nutrient recyclers (5), invertebrates such as millipedes tend to be overlooked in conservation policies (2) (7), with less than half of South Africa’s invertebrates even officially named (2). Some efforts are underway to collate information on these species, such as the Green Trust Database of Threatened South African Invertebrates (2), and such initiatives will be important in improving the conservation of species such as this little-known millipede (1).

To find out more about the conservation of invertebrates and other wildlife in South Africa see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
  2. The Green Trust Database of Threatened South African Invertebrates (January, 2010)
  3. Hamer, M.L. (2000) Review of the millipede genus Doratogonus, with descriptions of fifteen new species from Southern Africa (Diplopoda, Spirostreptida, Spirostreptidae). Annals of the Natal Museum, 41: 1-76.
  4. Barnes, R.S.K., Calow, P., Olive, P.J.W., Golding, D.W. and Spicer, J.I. (2001) The Invertebrates: A Synthesis. 3rd Edition. Blackwell Science, Oxford.
  5. O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and Their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Hamer, M.L. and Slotow, R.H. (2000) Patterns of distribution and speciation in the genus Doratogonus (Diplopoda: Spirostreptidae). In: Wytwer, J. and Golovatch, S.I. (Eds.) Progress in Studies on Myriapoda and Onychophora. Fragmenta Faunistica, 43(Suppl): 295–311.
  7. Hamer, M.L. and Slotow, R.H. (2002) Conservation application of existing data for South African millipedes (Diplopoda). African Entomology, 10(1): 29–42.