Mangled millipedes can treat threadworm infestations in lemurs

Aug 09, 2018

Good news for lemurs. Bad for millipedes

MANY animals are herbalists. Pregnant elephants eat particular leaves to induce the births of their calves. Birds keep bloodsucking bugs at bay by weaving insect-repelling plants into their nests. Fruit flies lay their eggs on fermenting matter that is rich in ethanol, which drives away parasitic wasps. There is, in other words, a whole pharmacopoeia of botanical products out there. Examples of animals employing the products of other animals for medical purposes are, by contrast, rare. But one case has just come to light. Louise Peckre of the German Primate Centre, in Göttingen, has found that red-fronted lemurs treat threadworm infestations in the gut and around the anus with millipede juice.

Unlike their fellow myriapods the centipedes, which are venomous, millipedes have no chemical weapons. But they have chemical defences, particularly benzoquinones. These can blind, burn and poison would-be predators, and also act as...

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