Original Paper


, 98:967

First online:

How to uncoil your partner—“mating songs” in giant pill-millipedes (Diplopoda: Sphaerotheriida)

  • Thomas WesenerAffiliated withResearch Museum Alexander Koenig, Sektion Myriapoda Email author 
  • , Jörn KöhlerAffiliated withHessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt
  • , Stefan FuchsAffiliated withInstitut für Bienenkunde, Polytechnische Gesellschaft, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
  • , Didier van den SpiegelAffiliated withRoyal Museum for Central Africa, Invertebrate Section

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The stridulation of the giant pill-millipede genus Sphaerotherium from South Africa, one of only three groups of millipedes that produce sounds, was studied. One hundred one stridulation series of a total of nine different species (Sphaerotherium dorsaloide, Sphaerotherium hanstroemi, Sphaerotherium mahaium, Sphaerotherium similare, Sphaerotherium punctulatum, Sphaerotherium convexitarsum, Sphaerotherium dorsale, Sphaerotherium rotundatum, and Sphaerotherium perbrincki) were analyzed. Stridulation sounds are produced only with a special field of ribs on the posterior surface of the posterior telopod, which is actively moved over a field of sclerotized nubs on the inner margin of the anal shield. The Sphaerotherium male usually stridulates only when in contact with a female to initiate mating. This seems to prevent the female from volvating into a ball or stimulate the female to uncoil when already rolled in. The sound analyzes revealed a broad frequency spectrum in all stridulation sounds produced, without obvious differences in frequency distribution among species. However, the temporal pattern of the stridulation varies greatly between species and seems to be species-specific, arguing for a species recognition function of the stridulation during courtship behavior. A single species (S. punctulatum) was found to stridulate during mating while three species also show postcopulatory stridulation. Apparently, pill-millipedes are not capable of acoustic perception, as no hearing organs are known, indicating that the communication is mainly based on perception of temporal vibration patterns, and not of the acoustic signal itself. The need to overcome the rolling-in reflex of the female is developed as a hypothesis why stridulation exists only in millipedes able to coil into a ball, and apparently evolved four times independently in the superorder Oniscomorpha.


Arthropoda Sphaerotheriidae Stridulation organs Sound production Courtship behavior Pre-mating isolation South Africa