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Discovery of the First Ever True Millipede

By Mithuna Prince


The term millipede translates to thousand feet (mille - thousand, pes - foot in Latin), but the name had always been a misnomer given to a group of sub-cylindrical arthropods that possess two pairs of short legs per body segment with not more than 750 legs until December 2021, when they reported the discovery of the first-ever species of millipede with 1306 legs that truly lived up to its name.


This myriapod was first discovered 60m deep in a drill hole in the Goldfields region of Western Australia. The drill holes provided a region composed of banded iron formations and mafic iron volcanic rocks, a known habitat for subterranean organisms and troglophilic fauna (cave-dwelling organisms that have adapted to their dark surroundings). The holes ranging from a depth of 15 - 60 m, yielded a total of eight specimens of this species. Two juveniles were collected in April 2020 and another one in January 2021. It was named ‘Eumillipes persephone’ which means true millipede. It has twice the number of legs compared to the Californian millipede species, Illacme plenipes, the previous record holder for the leggiest organism with 750 legs. At first glance, E. persephone might look morphologically similar to its relative

I. plenipes, but after closer observation through electron microscopy and genome sequencing,these two species were found to not be as closely related as their appearances may suggest.


Millipedes have been around for more than 400 million years. Although

E. persephone has taken credit for the organism with the most number of legs, it is significantly shorter than its ancestors, some of which grew up to 2 metres (6.6 feet) long. The new species is far smaller, only measuring as long as the average human male middle finger or a credit card. Each of these 330-segmented animals is pale and cream-coloured, lacking eyes. The massive antennae make up for their lack of eyes, helping them sense their way through their surroundings. It has a cone-shaped head and a beak for feeding, measuring 95 millimetres (3.7 inches) in length.


To make sure the limbs were not miscounted, Paul Marek colour-coded every 10-leg segment using a high-resolution image of the uncurled species on Adobe Illustrator. Marek is an associate professor at the department of entomology at Virginia Tech. "I counted three times, and it took about 1 hour," said Marek, the author of the study that was published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports’.


The researchers believe that this newfound species uses its legs to tunnel through the soil in up to eight different directions at once. Marek suspects it feeds on fungi found in the deep and dark soils, the type of fungi yet to be found. But what Marek is sure of is that the word ‘millipede’ will no longer be a misnomer.


Sources

  1. National Centre for Biotechnology Information: First true millipede - 1306 legs long - Marek et al. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8677783/

  2. YouTube : First True Millipede Discovered - Bugs and Biology https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Phjk_i6t74g&t=311s&ab_channel=BugsandBiology

  3. Science News Explores: Scientists discover the first true millipede - Jonathan Lambert https://www.snexplores.org/article/true-millipede-most-legs-eumillipes-persephone

  4. EyeWitnessNews: First true millipede discovered in Australia with 1,306 legs - Katie Hunt, CNN Wire https://abc7.com/millipede-discovered-australia-insects/11352704/

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