New species is first "true" millipede with over 1,000 legs
Most millipedes are frauds – despite their name being Latin for “thousand feet,” they usually only have a few hundred at most. But a newly discovered species is the first to really earn its name with well over 1,000 legs, far more than any other creature on the planet.
Millipedes commonly have between 34 and 400 legs, but the previous record holder – a species called Illacme plenipes – sports over 600 legs on average, with one particularly leggy individual boasting 750. It must be feeling a bit inadequate now though, in the face of the new species which gets around on a frankly unnecessary 1,306 legs.
To reflect its achievement, the newcomer has been officially named Eumillipes persephone – the first part meaning “true thousand foot” in Latin. Persephone, meanwhile, was the Greek goddess of the underworld, and that’s in reference to where the creature was discovered.
The new millipede was found in drill holes up to 60 m (200 ft) underground, in the mining region of Eastern Goldfields Province in Western Australia. The team examined four specimens and found that their bodies have up to 330 segments, measuring up to 95.7 mm (3.8 in) long and just under 1 mm (0.04 in) wide. Their heads are cone-shaped, with no eyes, a beak and a pair of large antennae.
These features appear to be evolutionary adaptations to life underground, the researchers say, with the long and leggy body helping it burrow through soil and slip through narrow gaps. This makes it very different to its closest relatives, which mostly live on the surface, but similar to the Californian species Illacme plenipes. However, genomic studies found that these two species are only distantly related.
The team says that the discovery, far deeper than any other millipede, shows how little we truly know about these underground ecosystems, which could be threatened by mining.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.