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Lemurs’ Risky Ritual with Poisonous Millipedes

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In the lush forests of Madagascar, a peculiar ritual unfolds. With their wide, curious eyes, Lemurs seek out toxic millipedes, not as a food source but for a more intoxicating purpose. Like pufferfish, millipedes are toxic, armed with dangerous secretions, including cyanide, to ward off predators. However, this doesn’t deter the lemurs. They have found a peculiar, albeit risky, use for these crawling creatures.

© BBC YouTube

The Ritual

Lemurs cautiously chew on the toxic millipedes, causing them to release their poisonous secretions. The toxins salivate the lemurs, who then rub the millipede and their saliva-laden fur. This isn’t a random act of madness but a calculated move. The toxic concoction acts as an effective insect repellent, warding off pests like mosquitoes that are carriers of deadly diseases such as malaria.

A Trance-Inducing Experience

Yet, there’s more to this ritual than meets the eye. Lemurs are suspiciously enthusiastic about this process. The toxins, while serving as a repellent, also send the lemurs into a trance-like state of complete intoxication. They seem to derive a peculiar pleasure, an ecstatic high, from this toxic interaction. The lemurs can’t seem to get enough of it, and the forest resonates with their euphoric cries.

The Aftermath

However, every high has its low. After the intoxicating experience, the lemurs are left in a state akin to a hangover. The toxic dance takes its toll, and the only remedy is rest. They retreat to the safety of the trees, their bodies languid, their eyes heavy. Sleep is the only antidote to the intoxicating effects of the millipede’s toxins.

YouTube video
© BBC YouTube

The Science Behind the Ritual

Scientists and researchers have been fascinated by this bizarre interaction. The lemurs’ millipedes use is a testament to their adaptability and ingenuity. Despite the toxic nature of the millipedes, lemurs have turned a potential threat into a resource. The insect-repelling properties of the toxins offer them protection against disease-carrying pests, a benefit that outweighs the temporary intoxication.


In the heart of Madagascar’s forests, the dance between lemurs and millipedes is a spectacle of nature’s adaptability and resilience. It’s a dance of danger and ecstasy, of risk and reward. As the lemurs embrace the intoxicating highs and the inevitable lows, they remind us of the intricate and unexpected ways in which the threads of the natural world are woven together.

Latest posts by Cayla de Souza, M.Sc. Ocean Sciences & Marine Biology (see all)

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