IRFD 2: Halls of the mountain millipede

International Rock-Flipping Day, September 2, 2007For my second rock of the day, I decided to try the small powerline right-of-way a couple hundred yards from my house. The powerline is almost a hundred years old, and the right-of-way has turned into a scrub barrens habitat dominated by lowbush blueberries and huckleberries, scrub oak, mountain laurel, sweetfern, and bracken. Two springs ago my brother collected a rare species of blister beetle there, and the increasingly scarce yellow-breasted chat has nested there in the past, so I was curious to see what a casual look under a rock would turn up.

Narceus millipede

What I found was nothing rare, but beautiful nonetheless. The Narceus millipedes, as I mentioned here a while back, are superabundant composters of forest litter throughout the northeast, where they apparently serve as a significant reservoir of calcium and phosphorus in otherwise acid, well-drained mountaintop soils. Out here on the powerline, where the leaf litter is thin to nonexistent, it makes sense that they would shelter under rocks.

powerline rock

Whereas with my first rock, the low-light conditions under the early-morning forest canopy made photography difficult, out on the powerline the strong sunlight created too much contrast. You’ll have to take my word for it that the sandy soil under the millipede’s rock was a maze of millipede-sized galleries. You can see the millipede at left of center. It curled up immediately upon the removal of its roof and didn’t budge.

millipede tunnels

A close-up of the shaded portion of the trough-shaped hollow does show some detail of these halls of the mountain millipede. After I replaced the rock and headed back down to the house, I tried to picture it there, uncurling, traveling the labyrinth of its home, its feet rising and falling in silent waves.

(last updated Sept 5, 8:30 a.m. EDT – newer additions at bottom)

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The above post is Part 2 of a four-part series on IRFD festivities in Plummer’s Hollow, Pennsylvania (USA). See Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

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19 Replies to “IRFD 2: Halls of the mountain millipede”

  1. I love the runnelled channels you’ve caught, and the ripple of millipede wandering in that last sentence.

    The thin caliche out here made it hard to find anything as tunneled as your find under a rock, but it was a fun flip nonetheless!

  2. I had to give Rock Flipping Day a bye because it was 108 degrees outside, which would have made it cruel to any subterranean denizens who were down there, in any case, for the coolness. As it was, I went out to see a friend who was in hospital and ended up in the ER with a severe migraine.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Susannah, I did get your link, as you see.

    Joel, that really sucks. It sounds as if this date, which we picked in such haste, may not be ideal for your neck of the woods.

  4. I just found your blog, and International Rock-flipping Day. I love the concept, and I really hope there will be a second annual event so I can participate too.

  5. Hi, Diana. I’m glad you like the concept. Yes, I certainly plan to keep it going, and maybe start publicity a few months early next year – get nature centers and school teachers involved, if possible.

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