For the first time, a millipede with more than 1000 legs has been discovered in Australia, making it the first ever millipede to truly live up to the name – and it is an absolute goddess.
Millipede roughly translates to ‘thousand legs’, but prior to this discovery, no millipede had ever been found with more than 750 legs.
The epic myriapod was found in a mine in the Eastern Goldfields Province of Western Australia.
“The reality is that 80 to 90% of what we pull out of the ground is a new species,“ says Bruno Buzatto, a researcher at the Macquarie University and author on the report, published in Scientific Reports. “The vast majority of subterranean invertebrates here in Western Australia aren’t described in science.
“But this is a very special one because it’s the leggiest millipede ever found. That was certainly a very cool thing to see.”
A millipede named Persephone
Named Eumillipes Persephone, this millepede has 1360 legs, making it the leggiest animal in the world!
“We named the genus in a nod that it’s the first true millipede with more than 1000 legs,” says lead author Paul Marek of Virginia Tech, USA.
“The name Eumillipes is a combination of the Greek eu, meaning ‘true’; Latin mille, ‘thousand’; and Latin pes, ‘foot’. The species epithet, Persephone, is from the Greek mythological goddess of the underworld who was originally from the surface but was taken to the underworld by Hades.”
The queen of legs is 95.7 millmetres long and just 0.95 millimetres wide. In order to cram in so many stubby legs, E. Persephone has a long, thread-like body and 330 body segments.
The extra leg power may allow the millipede to generate more pushing force, enabling it to move through narrow openings in its home soil.
It also has a cone-shaped head and is completely eyeless, potentially because it lives in the dark.
Interestingly, E. Persephone took a long time to characterise, especially because it is painfully difficult to investigate the miniscule legs without damaging the specimen – those tiny runners require care!
“It’s an exciting but slow process because we had to get in touch with the expert in the US, Paul Marek, to try and figure out how special the millipede was and which family it belonged to,” says Buzatto.
The researchers analysed the millipede’s family tree and found that E. Persephone is only distantly related to the previous world-record holder for number of legs – the Californian millipede species, Illacme plenipes – suggesting the two species evolved a quiverful of legs independently of each other. This is called convergent evolution.
“Our millipede is the only blind, only subterranean, only pale and the only very long millipede in its whole order,” explains Buzatto.
“It’s very distantly related to the one from California and that’s quite cool because it shows that adaptations to living in the ground evolved at least twice, in two different orders and millipedes in a very convergent way.
“This is one of the many examples of animals that evolved the same adaptations because they live in the same type of environment. That’s always a fascinating thing to see.”
Protecting the leggiest creature
The finding also highlights the unique biodiversity found in the Eastern Goldfields Province, and suggests that efforts need to be made to preserve E. Persephone’s underground habitat.
“Describing animals and their taxonomy helps experts go and describe all the things that are out there,” says Buzatto.
“That is a very important part of the conservation because we need to know what is losing habitat so we can protect it.”
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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