Armored Caterpillar discovered by Emmetts Expeditions

Armored Caterpillar – What is That?

This weekend, Emmett and I went on an acorn hunt, one of our favorite hiking activities. Along the way we came across a new species Emmett hadn’t seen before. It looked like an armored caterpillar.

Welcome to What is That Wednesday –  a blog series where Emmett and I share the strange and unusual species, we come across. We study it, take a photo, research it, and share it on the blog.

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Emmett knows not to touch wildlife with his hands. We always carry a stick around in case he wants to observe something and treats the animals kindly. Because if a giant came and picked us up we wouldn’t be too happy either. Instead of holding the cool looking creature, we pushed the grass aside with a stick and watched it. Then when he was ready to continue with our acorn hunt we took a picture and left the animal undisturbed.

The next day we pulled up the picture and started researching. We learned a lot about it, including its real name. Although we may keep the nickname, Armored Caterpillar, the next time we see one.

Researching the Armored Caterpillar

Insects have 6 legs and arachnids have 8. Emmett didn’t know what to call this animal with too many legs to count. He started off searching: “What are insects with many legs?” The search came up with centipedes. Centipedes look very similar to our armored caterpillar. It was a good start to the search. Unfortunately, there was a lot about pest control and not a whole lot about species research. Thankfully we came across an photo in an image search that looked a lot like ours. That image led us to a page on millipedes.

Identifying the Real Species

It took more digging through articles and images, but Emmett and I finally found out the name for our new creature. The real name of this armored caterpillar is Apheloria virginiensis – a North American millipede. This organism is about 2 inches long with a lot of legs. The name millipede suggests they have 1,000 legs! However, that is not accurate. Millipedes have 2 pairs of legs per segment and have a different number of segments depending on their age. The one we found had about 20 segments which means it had somewhere around 80 legs. So not 1000, but still a lot.

To find the Apheloria virginiensis, look in damp mossy areas. You’ll also likely come across fungi, decaying leaves, and rotting wood. I’m not sure how widespread the species is, but I can tell you it is found in woodlands of Virginia. I’ll definitely be on the look out for millipede books the next time we make a library trip.

This millipede is one of the more striking in appearance. It’s vibrant colors hint at its toxic properties.

Lessons to Learn From this Animal

I do not teach Emmett to be afraid of bugs. I do however teach him to respect wildlife and I teach him not touch wildlife unless he knows it is safe. And when the expedition is over, the first thing we do is wash our hands. Encouraging kids to get dirty, have fun, and love nature is important. However it is also important to teach them to love and care for wildlife. To do that, they need to know what that wildlife is. This millipede was an organism Emmett had never seen before. He knew that meant we needed to observe and research it. And it is good we did. Apheloria virginiensis secretes cyanide to defend itself. The cyanide can irritate the skin and eyes. Now, when Emmett sees this animal again, he knows not to touch it with his hands. This will keep him safe and keep the millipede happy too.

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Learn More About this Millipede

Polydesmida from Wikipedia
Apheloria virginiensis from Wikipedia
Animal Care & Information : How Many Legs Does a Millipede Have? from eHow on YouTube
Apheloria virginiensis from Real Monstrosities

Have You Ever Seen a Millipede?

Ashley Shelton

Ashley is the naturalist homeschool mom of Emmett's Expeditions. Since 2013, she has created nature centered learning activities that encourage kids to explore nature, discover new horizons, and protect the world we live in. In addition to wildlife activity books for your children's expeditions she has a Free expedition library for newsletter subscribers.




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