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Bug Hunt: Bumblebee Millipede That Could Be A Pet


Summer is here, and with pools and playgrounds closed in many parts of the country, parents are wondering how to fill up all that time with their kids. Geoff Brumfiel and his children have taken to wandering the woods. Here's the latest installment of what they have found.


GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: We live in a city but close to some woods. And so my son, my daughter and I have taken to tromping around, looking for bugs.


BRUMFIEL: We were poking around in some dead leaves when we saw this many-legged creature scuttle by.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: This kind of looks like a millipede.

BRUMFIEL: It was a millipede, and it was really unusual-looking.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: He has, like, small yellow stripes and thick black stripes.

BRUMFIEL: I snapped a photo and sent it to U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist Sammy Ramsey. He recognized it right away.

SAMMY RAMSEY: So this species, the bumblebee millipede, is one that I've actually kept as a pet for a number of years.

BRUMFIEL: They belong to a group of animals known as myriapods.

RAMSEY: The word myriapod literally means a whole bunch of legs, and they live by that name. It allows them to move pretty efficiently through the undergrowth, through all of the leaf litter where they recycle all the nutrients from decomposing leaves and plants back to the environment.

BRUMFIEL: Bumblebee millipedes are part of an army of little creatures that keep forests running by clearing out all the trash. But what about their unusual black and yellow coloring? It turns out it's a warning because these millipedes actually produce a powerful poison - cyanide.

RAMSEY: Bumblebee millipedes do use that as a defensive mechanism. They can release a small amount of cyanide that can be used to defend them against small creatures that come after them but not enough to ever be dangerous to a human being.

BRUMFIEL: Unless you eat them. Don't eat the millipedes, OK? So look. Anyway, if you're looking for a quarantine pet that isn't a kitty or a puppy, consider a bumblebee millipede.

RAMSEY: They can be fairly gregarious. They'll live together in the same container, and you can feed them decomposing plant material or fresh fruits and vegetables.

BRUMFIEL: Then again, parents, I can assure you that it's just as much fun to find them in the woods and leave them there.

Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.


LITTLE BABY BUMS NURSERY RHYME FRIENDS: (Singing) Bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs, bugs... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.