Adult lions are accomplished and coordinated predators capable of tackling prey many times their size. But for this trio of lion cubs in South Africa's MalaMala Game Reserve, a millipede proved to be a formidable adversary. 

Senior ranger Nic Nel was enjoying a game drive in the reserve recently when he came across two lionesses and a number of cubs. The pride was relaxing near a waterhole and doing what lions do best: snoozing. These big cats can sleep for as many as 20 hours a day and typically save their energy for the evenings when they go on the prowl for food. 

"While observing the sleeping lions, we noticed a small visitor appear in the middle of the pride: a millipede," Nel explained to the team at Latest Sightings who recently uploaded the footage. Curiosity got the better of one of the young cats and it moved in for a closer inspection. The remaining cubs followed suit and the tiny arthropod was suddenly surrounded by inquisitive cats.

Millipedes – many legged invertebrates found on all of the world's continents except Antarctica – are slow-moving creatures with a tough exoskeleton that helps protect them against predators. Strong as this exterior armour is, it certainly can't withstand a bite from a lion. For that, the millipede uses a chemical defence. By emitting a foul-smelling – and sometimes toxic – secretion through tiny holes called ozopores, many millipede species are able to deter any would-be attackers.

When one of the cubs got a little too close to the arthropod, this innovative defence tactic kicked in and the cat grimaced in response.

"At this point, the cubs began losing interest in the millipede and made their way back to mum," Nel explained. "The two adult females also then rose from their slumber and began moving. Nightfall was approaching, and perhaps dinner was on their minds." 

Top header image: Ray Muzyka/Flickr