Biology

Newly discovered millipede has 414 legs, 200 poison glands and 4 penises

Newly discovered millipede has...
The new species, Illacme tobini, is one of only two in the Illacme family
The new species, Illacme tobini, is one of only two in the Illacme family
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A new species of millipede, Illacme tobini, has been discovered in a cave in California, with 414 legs, four penises, and 200 poison glands
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A new species of millipede, Illacme tobini, has been discovered in a cave in California, with 414 legs, four penises, and 200 poison glands
NSFW? You're looking at a close-up of the millipede's four penises
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NSFW? You're looking at a close-up of the millipede's four penises
The new species, Illacme tobini, is one of only two in the Illacme family
3/3
The new species, Illacme tobini, is one of only two in the Illacme family
View gallery - 3 images

A new species of millipede, discovered in a cave in California, joins the rarely-seen family of Illacme, known for having more legs than any other animal on the planet. The new creature, dubbed Illacme tobini, has been studied from a single male specimen and boasts a strange list of body parts, including 414 legs (four of which function as its penises), 200 poison glands that spray an unknown chemical, mysterious mouthparts and a body covered in hairs that secrete silk.

Not much is known about the Illacme family of millipedes. Until the discovery of tobini, the sole species was the Illacme plenipes, first described in 1928 then not seen again in the wild for another 80 years. Of the 17 specimens in collections around the world, one holds the record for the leggiest animal on Earth, with a total of 750 legs. Most of the plenipes specimens were found near San Juan Bautista in California, and their rarity makes the new discovery particularly exciting for diplopodologists – scientists who specialize in the study of millipedes.

"I never would have expected that a second species of the leggiest animal on the planet would be discovered in a cave 150 miles (240 km) away (from the plenipes site)," says Paul Marek of Virginia Tech, one of the researchers who described the new species.

Just one Illacme tobini specimen was found in a cave during an expedition to Sequoia National Park in 2006, despite thorough searching in the cave and surrounding areas for more of them. It was preserved in ethanol, dissected and had samples of its DNA extracted, and study of its anatomy found it to be a close relative of the plenipes, but a distinct species.

A new species of millipede, Illacme tobini, has been discovered in a cave in California, with 414 legs, four penises, and 200 poison glands
A new species of millipede, Illacme tobini, has been discovered in a cave in California, with 414 legs, four penises, and 200 poison glands

With a tally of 414 legs, this one specimen sounds far short of the record-holding 750, but it is about average for the better known Illacme species. The tobini's four penises are actually four of its legs, repurposed for reproduction, and the body is covered with tiny hairs that appear to secrete a silk-like substance. Further adding to the mystery, pores in its mouth seem to give off an unknown secretion, and each of its segments is adorned with a pair of glands that spray poison, although just what it sprays also hasn't been identified.

Since only the one specimen has ever been found, the researchers can't be sure how widespread the Illacme tobini is, but it likely has a pretty limited range. They conclude that the area should be explored and surveyed in more detail to paint a better picture.

The research was published in the journal Zoo Keys.

Source: Virginia Tech, via EurekAlert

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6 comments
yawood
Interesting things millipedes. When I was a teacher in New Guinea in the 1960's and 70's the kids would often come to school with long acid burns on their faces and bodies from having rolled on a millipede in their sleep. The ones we got up there were about 100mm long and a dark reddish colour. The marks they left would fade after a few days.
Billy D Howell Sr.
So they found it and killed it. Reminds me of the oldest animal every found, I believe it was a clam. They killed it to carbon date it to see how old it was and it turned out to have been the oldest animal ever recorded. You've got to love humans.
Derek Howe
Billy, So what? If that clam was 100 years old or a 100,000, does it matter? Humans are the only species with a big enough brain that truly matter. If a clam/millipede/monkey lives to be the oldest...the only species that cares to know that info is us humans. Also, yes, I do love humans, were the smartest most advanced species in the universe...until we discover otherwise.
GWA111
After they found it, they couldn't find another so they killed it to dissect it? I thought these guys were scientists, couldn't they have kept it as a live specimen for a while? if for nothing else but to find what that poison is? Wow, just goes to show - no educational institute can teach you common sense
VincentWolf
Have to be a bit jealous of having 4 penises.....imagine the possibilities!
Stradric
Billy, just think that it gave its life for science. And now a spot has opened up for the next oldest creature ever discovered.