Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Millipedes blamed for Australian rail crash.

An incident at about 6.40 am local time on Tuesday 3 September 2013, in which one train ran into the back of another at a rail station at Clarkson in Western Australia (roughly 40 km north of Perth), has been blamed on a swarm of invasive Portuguese Black Millipedes (Ommatoiulus morelati), which covered the track, making it slippery as the train ran over them and causing it to skid on the rails.  The incident did not result in major damage, although several passengers were treated for minor injures at the scene, and train services were delayed for about 15 minutes.The Millipedes, which were introduced accidentally to South Australia before 1953, are now found from southern Western Australia to the east coasts of Victoria and New South Wales, and have reached the island of Tasmania.They lack natural predators in Australia and are considered a serious invasive pest.

A mass of Portuguese Black Millipedes. Wartook Community Website.

Portuguese Black Millipenes defend themselves against predators by secreting a yellowish liquid containing hydrogen cyanide, which no potential Australian predator has evolved a mechanism to deal with. When invading new areas they typically undergo explosive population expansions, followed by a population but when they have eaten all the available food (not good news for anything else). The species has been implicated in railway incidents before, most notably at Tallarook in Victoria where a mass interfered with signaling equipment in March 2009.

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