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The name millipede, which translates to a "thousand feet," is a bit of a misnomer. Many species of the arthropods have fewer than 100 legs, and even the record holder — the Illacme plenipes — boasts a "mere" 750 legs. Now, a team led by Virginia Tech entomologist Paul Marek has finally found the world's first "true" millipede — one with over 1,300 legs!
The new species, named Eumilipes Persephone, was discovered inside three, 196-foot-deep (60-meter), abandoned mining holes in Western Australia. The arthropods had elongated thread-like bodies, cone-shaped heads, no eyes, and massive antennas. "These animals were so unique. As soon as I realized how long they were … I realized they had to be something completely different," gushed study co-author and biologist Dr. Bruno Buzatto.
The researchers analyzed four of the eight specimens found for their study — two males and two females. The millipedes were all of different lengths. The shortest millipede had 198 rings and 778 legs, while the longest — an almost four-inch long female — boasted 330 rings and a mind-boggling 1,306 legs. Since millipedes add body segments, or rings, throughout their lives, it meant they all differed in ages, too!
Marek's team, who published their findings in the journal Nature on December 21, 2021, say the new species probably evolved in length to help it propel forward underground. "The more length you have, the more strength to propel forward," explained study co-leader and CSIRO insect expert Dr. Juanita Rodriguez. "The millipede's more than 300 body segments would also give it a greater force for movement in rocky areas such as small crevices."
Based on previous knowledge of how often millipedes add rings, the scientists believe that the E. Persephone has a lifespan of between five and ten years. This is more than twice that of previously found millipedes which, on average, live for about two years.
The E. Persephone is not the only millipede species making headlines. On December 21, 2021, a separate study conducted by British scientists revealed the discovery of a fossilized exoskeleton of the largest arthropod, and possibly the biggest bug, to have ever lived. The millipede-like creatures, which roamed Earth between 359 million and 299 million years ago, were nine feet long (2.7 meters) and weighed 110 pounds (49kg)! Yikes!
Resources: Livescience.com, the guardian.com, Nature.com, Smithsonian.com