This is the 1st millipede ever discovered that truly has more than …
thorough underground in an exploratory drill hole in a mining vicinity of Australia, scientists have discovered a “surprise of evolution,” a remarkably elongated blind millipede possessing the most legs — 1,306, to be precise — of any known animal.
The threadlike pale-coloured millipede reaches about 95 millimetres long and about four-hundredths of an inch (0.95 mm) wide, with a conical head, beak-shaped mouth and large antennae — likely one of its only supplies of sensory input because it lacks eyes, scientists said on Thursday.
“before no known millipede truly had 1,000 legs despite the name millipede meaning ‘thousand feet,'” said Virginia Tech entomologist Paul Marek, rule author of the research published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The creature is called Eumillipes persephone. The handful of individuals discovered lived up to almost 60 metres underground. Females had more legs than males.
This electron microscope image shows a closeup of the head of a male Eumillipes persephone and reproductive organs called gonopods. (Paul E. Marek, Bruno A. Buzatto, William A. Shear, Jackson C. method, Dennis G. Black, Mark S. Harvey, Juanita Rodriguez/Scientific Reports)
“In my opinion this is a dramatically animal, a surprise of evolution,” said study co-author Bruno Buzatto, a principal biologist at Bennelongia Environmental Consultants in Perth, Australia.
“It represents the most extreme elongation found to date in millipedes, which were the first animals to conquer land. And this species in particular managed to adapt to living tens of metres thorough in the soil, in an dry and harsh scenery where it is very hard to find any millipedes surviving in the surface,” Buzatto additional.
Why so many legs?
Until now, the leggiest animal known was a California millipede species called Illacme plenipes, with 750 legs.
The researchers speculate that evolving so many legs helped Eumillipes.
“We believe that the large number of legs provides an advantage in terms of traction/force to push their bodies forward by small gaps and fractures in the soil where they live,” Buzatto said.
WATCH World’s leggiest millipede discovered
World’s leggiest millipede discovered
Biologist Bruno Buzatto shares why a newly discovered species of millipede is so special. 0:59
The species lives in complete darkness in a subterranean habitat loaded with iron and volcanic rocks. Lacking eyes, it uses other senses such as touch and smell to perceive its ecosystem. It belongs to a family of fungi-eating millipedes, so the researchers speculate that is what it eats.
It was discovered in Western Australia state’s Goldfields-Esperance vicinity in an area where miners dig for gold and other minerals, including lithium and vanadium. Four Eumillipes individuals were described in the study and another four have been found. None of them were observed alive.
One of the adult females described in the study had 1,306 legs and the other had 998. One of the two adult males had 818 legs and the other had 778.
An electron microscope image shows the legs of a male Eumillipes persephone. (Paul E. Marek, Bruno A. Buzatto, William A. Shear, Jackson C. method, Dennis G. Black, Mark S. Harvey, Juanita Rodriguez/Scientific Reports)
The number of legs is not uniform within millipede species because they molt — shedding their tough outer inner — grow and add four-legged segments throughout their life.
“It’s quite shared in millipedes for individuals to gain more legs as they molt so that older individuals have more legs than juveniles,” Buzatto said.
Typically millipedes have about 100 to 200 legs. After millipedes, centipedes have the greatest number of legs, up to as many as 382. Centipedes have one pair of legs per body part while millipedes have two pairs.
The newly discovered creature’s scientific name method “true thousand feet” and references Persephone, the queen of the underworld in ancient Greek mythology.
Millipedes — slow-moving arthropods related to centipedes, insects and crustaceans — first appeared more than 400 million years ago.
approximately 13,000 species are known today, living in all sorts of environments, feeding on decaying vegetation and fungi. They play an important ecosystem role by breaking down the matter on which they satisfy, freeing up its component parts such as carbon, nitrogen and simple sugars.
“These nutrients can then be used by future generations of life,” Marek said.
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