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30 June 2015 English Names of the Millipedes (Diplopoda) of KwaZulu-Natal
Adrian J. Armstrong, Michelle L. Hamer
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Certain groups of invertebrates are becoming mainstreamed in conservation activities in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly groups that have many species endemic to the province and that are confined to small distribution ranges. As a result of this there is a need to assign common (English) names where these are unavailable. A list of scientific names and standardised common names is presented for species of millipede occurring in KwaZulu-Natal.


A diverse array of invertebrate species is endemic to the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany biodiversity hotspot in the eastern region of South Africa, in the middle of which lies most of the province of KwaZulu-Natal (Mittermeier et al. 2005). These endemic invertebrates include species of earthworms, insects, millipedes and snails, (e.g. Hamer 1998; Armstrong 2002; Herbert & Kilburn 2004; Plisko 2003).

The accumulated transformation of land in KwaZulu-Natal, where the natural indigenous vegetation is totally removed or irreversibly changed to a secondary form, reached 45% of the total land surface of the province in 2008 (Jewitt 2012). Land transformation is probably the most important threat facing invertebrate species in KwaZulu-Natal (e.g. Plisko 2000). As a result, the conservation requirements of the endemic invertebrate species need to be highlighted and included in conservation planning and environmental impact assessments (McGeoch et al. 2011).

In order to mainstream invertebrates in conservation practice, a general awareness of their identities, diversity and conservation needs is required. Regarding identities, scientific nomenclature eliminates confusion, but is known only to specialists. Scientific names have little meaning for the layperson or the conservationist (Plant Protection Research Institute 1979), and often these scientific names are even difficult to pronounce correctly. Common names on the other hand can vary markedly from region to region (Plant Protection Research Institute 1979), if indeed there are common names widely in use. These may change with time, as do scientific names as taxonomic and systematic research proceeds. Therefore the list will have to be revised from time to time. However, since many people who are or will be involved in the conservation of invertebrates identify animal species by their common names and not by their scientific names, it seems judicious that a standardised list of English names is created and published for reference. Certain invertebrate groups such as snails (Herbert & Kilbum 2004) and butterflies (Mecenero et al. 2013) already have standardised lists of common names.

Millipedes are being incorporated into conservation planning and environmental impact assessments in KwaZulu-Natal (McGeoch et al. 2011). Ninety-one percent of the 234 known millipede species and subspecies in KwaZulu-Natal are currently thought to be endemic to the province, and many have very small total distribution ranges. A single common name will be given for a single scientific name to avoid confusion. This is possible with millipedes because common names have only recently been used for this group of invertebrates in KwaZulu-Natal. The provided list can be used as the basis for common names of genera and species elsewhere in South Africa should this be required.


English names for various orders, families, genera and species of millipede have been in use for some time (e.g. Lawrence 1987; Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Biodiversity Database). These common names were taken as the starting points for the naming of the millipede taxa in KwaZulu-Natal. Many orders, families and even genera in the province can be given names according to characteristics that are quite easily observable to the layperson. However, since the elaborate secondary sex organs derived from the seventh pair of legs of the males are the main distinguishing characteristics of species of millipede, and the females are often indistinguishable without the males, the scientific names often reflect some aspect of these distinguishing characteristics. This means that translation of the specific epithet of the scientific name into English was often the only means of providing a good English name for a species name, but this name may not describe readily observable features. The species occurring in KwaZulu-Natal and the scientific nomenclature were obtained from Hamer (1998, 2000, 2009) and Redman et al. (2003).


Table 1 gives the scientific names and English names of the species of millipede known from KwaZulu-Natal. Figures 110 provide general habitus information for various orders and associated genera.


The list of species of millipede in KwaZulu-Natal gives each species a standardised English name that can be used for conservation planning and other conservation activities. Although identification of millipede species usually (but not invariably) requires male specimens and has to be done by specialists and trained technicians, the species of certain genera can be distinguished by externally visible features such as colour patterns (e.g. Centrobolus species, Allawrencius species, certain Doratogonus species, and certain Zinophora species), in conjunction with distribution if colour alone is insufficient. Other species of certain groups (e.g. some genera of Polydesmida) can be identified using external morphology under high magnification and available diagnostic keys. Species of some genera with externally similar morphology that require dissection out of the secondary sexual organs can nevertheless be easily identified under high magnification with the use of diagnostic keys (e.g. Doratogonus species using the key and illustrations in Hamer 2000).

We trust that this short communication will assist with the increasing mainstreaming of millipede taxa in conservation activities and planning, as Herbert and Kilbum (2004) have done in the case of snail and slug species. The illustration of the millipede species by means of photographs in a guide could be a further improvement in the effort to increasingly include millipede species in conservation activities, as might standardisation of English names for millipede species in other parts of South Africa.


English names for millipedes occurring in KwaZulu-Natal.














Figs 1, 2.

Order Polydesmida: Family Dalodesmidae (Keeled millipedes): (1) Complex keeled millipede, Allawrencius complex Lawrence, 1953; (2) Lumpy keeled millipede, Gnomeskelus tuberosus (subspecies unknown).


Fig. 3.

Order Polydesmida: Family Gomphodesmidae (Soil millipedes): Ulodesmus sp.


Fig. 4.

Order Sphaerotheriida: Family Sphaerotheriidae (Pill millipedes): Giant pill millipede, Sphaerotherium giganteum Porat, 1872.


Fig. 5.

Order Spirobolida: Family Pachybolidae (Red millipedes): Bifid red millipede, Centrobolus bifidus (Lawrence, 1967).


Figs 6–8.

Order Spirostreptida: (6) Family Harpagophoridae (Large spined millipedes): Short-lobed large spined millipede, Zinophora brevilobata (Attems, 1928); (7) Family Odontopygidae (Slender and two- spined millipedes): Forest slender spined millipede, Spinotarsus silvarum Kraus, 1960; (8) Family Spirostreptidae: Camaricoproctus sp.


Figs 9, 10.

Order Spirostreptida: Family Spirostreptidae (Black and shagreened millipedes): (9) Rattray's black millipede, Doratogonus rattrayi Hamer, 2009; (10) Corrugated black millipede, Orthoporoides corrugatus (Attems, 1934).




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Adrian J. Armstrong and Michelle L. Hamer "English Names of the Millipedes (Diplopoda) of KwaZulu-Natal," African Invertebrates 56(1), 147-159, (30 June 2015).
Published: 30 June 2015

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