Country diary: these many-legged creatures raise a stink

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Crook, County Durham: Spotted snake millipedes have ozopores on the flanks of each of their segments to repel predators

Digging the vegetable garden, I uncovered a potato, overlooked in an earlier harvest. I wondered if it was fit for the pot, then noticed the small hole in the side. A long column of pale, centimetre-long, thread-like animals marched out into the sunlight and fell to the ground.

I captured a few of the army that had hollowed out the potato. The first question, in my mental identification key to soil animals, was how many legs per segment? Easy: two, so they must be millipedes, not centipedes. Second question: total number of legs? Almost impossible to count, because they were never still. Scores of limbs rose and fell, in a rippling, undulating wave – mesmerising choreography that travelled the length of the animals’ bodies, in an endless cycle.

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