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Cornelia, Georgia, Habersham County, Georgia, USA
October 29, 2010
Smells like cherry

Images of this individual: tag all
Millipede Millipede

Moved from Polydesmida.

It is Xystodesmidae (Polydesm
It is Xystodesmidae (Polydesmida) probably a species of Sigmoria, but this can't be determined from the photo. These, and all polydesmidan millipeds, secrete HCN (hydrogen cyanide) in their defensive secretions, but the cherry smell derives from benzaldehyde, a byproduct in the biosynthetic pathway that generates HCN. I love the cherry/almond scent and smell every xystodesmid I collect and have done so for 39 years as of now. Despite the toxicity of HCN, I have not had any ill effects from smelling what is probably now over a thousand of these millipeds. I certainly wouldn't advise biting, eating, or ingesting one of them, however, which is what predators do, and they do experience ill effects. Rowland Shelley

Thank you for the clarification
I've handled only one cyanide-scented millipede and had no ill-effects. Thus I was surprised to read Bugguide's cautions against handling them. Do you know if adverse reactions are known to vary across people?

The cherry-like smell might be cyanide. Certain millipedes and certain cherry trees release cyanide-like compounds.

Note that these compounds (or, at least, those released by the millipedes) may be toxic. I say "may" because there appears to be disagreement on Bugguide as to how toxic they may be--see the contrasting discussions here and here. Personally, I think it might be wise to be cautious if you want to handle them.

Moved from ID Request. Maybe Xystodesmidae, or Eurymerodesmus is also colored like that.

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