Millipedes are a class of arthropods which, in Australia, include 21 genera of 60 species. They live under rocks or the bark of trees, and are often brightly coloured to the point of fluorescence. At rest, they are indistinguishable from a dead variety of their kind, though under a microscope one will see their little chest rising and falling. At play, their many – experts have counted as many as seven – legs appear to undulate in a soothing, sensual, almost hypnotic motion that has driven some men to madness.
Ask any Australian schoolchild how many millipedes there are in Australia and he will undoubtedly tell you a million. Keep him down another year, teacher, for as any educated person knows, the word milli is Greek for ‘thousand’. There are, at any given moment, a thousand millipedes in this country, and as soon as one dies the Queen Millipede (often, in the popular press, jovially known as ‘Millicent’, though her name is actually quite different) produces another egg which hatches to a replacement.
The most common variety of millipede in Australia is the pill-millipede, so called for its habit of rolling into a ball when faced with a predator or when hoping to impress. While these do resemble pills, they are quite different from the common variety of pill found in the modern pharmacist’s store – products such as Mrs. Beecham’s Cirrhosis of the Liver Pills or Mr. Gloomy’s Gut Salts – in that, if swallowed, they actually might do you some good.
Millipedes are often the subject of public discussion and debate, sometimes with tragic results. Former Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, long known as the most ribald of Governors-General – particularly at gentlemen’s smoking jacket nights – often made jokes at the expense of millipedes. Addressing the Young Fascist Club of Ramsay, Qld. in 1926, he brandished a rolled up copy of a lewd French magazine to his dazzled audience and compared it to a millipede: ‘long and cylindrical, with a varying number of horny segments’. Munro-Ferguson was later summonsed by the King to explain this joke and, unable to convince His Majesty of the validity of the colloquialism ‘horny’, was beheaded.
See also: Edward, King; Ferguson, Sir Ronald Munro; Millicent, Queen; Munro, Sir Ronald Ferguson; Ronald, Sir Munro-Ferguson.