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4-H companion animals come in all shapes, sizes

July 29, 2017 GMT

On Friday evening, several 4-H participants competed in the Companion Animal Show. Most of them had cats or guinea pigs, but Rachel Abbott showed off something a little different.

“It’s an American Giant Millipede,” said Abbott, 15. They grow to be about four inches in length.

The arthropod was at home on her hand, following the judging portion of the event. Despite not being as soft and cuddly as the other animals being shown in the arena, Abbott said she really likes millipedes. She’s been raising them for about three years.

“I generally like all animals,” Abbott said. “I’m interested in entomology. This isn’t an insect but it’s close enough.”

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Abbott said the millipede doesn’t bite and is a fairly low maintenance pet. It requires moist coconut fiber in the tank so that it can bury itself and things such as eats dead leaves. They also don’t have a lot of health issues.

As far as preparing for a show, Abbott said, “there’s not a lot grooming you can do, except dust them off.”

Although only one millipede made an appearance at the show, Abbott said there were several more hiding in their bed of coconut fiber. The one the judge saw had been named Athena earlier in the day.

“I don’t normally name them,” Abbott said. “There’s a bunch in there and they all look the same.”

Abbott’s millipedes don’t just get shown off during companion animal competitions. She also works them into other projects.

“I did a macro photography project with them,” Abbott said.

She explained that she used a dollhouse and the furniture inside it to pose the millipedes. One photo featured one stretched out on a toy couch, for example.

Extension educator Brenda Aufdenkamp said Abbott is usually the only participant to being millipedes to the companion animal competition, but given her passion for insects and arthropods it’s not surprising.

“Her knowledge of entomology is amazing,” Aufdenkamp said.

At last year’s state fair, Abbott won the Entomology Judging Championship. Aufdencamp said the knowledge Abbott has gained through 4-H has given her a better idea of what options are available to her after she graduates high school. She’s currently a sophomore at Hershey High School.