Diplopoda: Characteristics, Definition, Habitat & Examples

Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Memphis, M.S. from the University of Virginia, and B.S. from Mississippi State University. She has over 10 years of experience developing STEM curriculum and teaching physics, engineering, and biology.

Diplopoda is a class of animals that you might know by the more common name millipede. These animals are incredible successful and live all over the world. In this lesson, learn about their characteristics and habitat.

What Animals are in Class Diplopoda?

If you go for a walk in a wooded area and look around on the ground, you are very likely to find a member of a class of animals known as Diplopoda. It will probably be crawling around and eating the decaying leaves that litter the ground.

Members of Class Diplopoda, like this millipede, are commonly found in forest environments, where they eat decaying leaves and other vegetation on the ground.
Image of a millipede

Members of Class Diplopoda are more commonly known as millipedes, and they are found throughout the world, especially in damp, wooded areas, but also sometimes in grasslands and other environments. The word millipede comes from combining milli which means one thousand, and pede, which means feet, so millipedes are commonly believed to all have a thousand feet. However, although they do have lots of legs, no millipede has quite that many! Most usually have only 100-300 legs, although some species can have up to 750 legs.

Millipedes play an important role in the ecosystem, and they have been incredibly successful, adapting to life throughout the world. In fact, they are believed to be one of the very first land animals that evolved, first appearing on Earth over 400 million years ago!

Characteristics of Diplopods

Although they live all over the world in a variety of habitats, all members of Class Diplopoda have some features in common. First, all millipedes have two pairs of legs attached to each body segment. Other similar animals, like centipedes, have one pair of legs on each body segment. Millipedes are different because each segment is really made up of two segments fused together. These fused body segments are called diplosegments, which explains why the class is called Diplopoda!

All members of Class Diplopoda are arthropods, a group of animals that also includes insects and crustaceans. Just like other arthropods, they also all have a defined thorax and abdomen, although these are not always easily identifiable. The first three body segments of a millipede make up the thorax, and the rest of the body is the abdomen. If you look closely, you can tell the difference between segments that are part of the thorax and those that are part of the abdomen. The first segment that is part of the thorax doesn't have any legs, and the next two only have one set of legs per segment. In contrast, the rest of the segments that make up the abdomen always have two sets of legs on each segment.

The legs of a millipede are quite complex. Each leg has more segments than an insect leg, and each set of legs moves independently of all the others. They move in a wave-like fashion with each leg moving a little later than the one in front of it and a little before the one behind it. This helps to propel the animal through the leaf litter on the forest floor where it can get to the decaying plant material that it likes to eat.

Habitat of Diplopods

Most members of Class Diplopoda live in damp, forested environments, although this is not true for all species. Most are also quite small and are primarily nocturnal, so even though they are very abundant throughout the world, they are also rarely seen by people.

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