Deep underground in an exploratory drill gap in a mining area of Australia, scientists have found a “marvel of evolution,” a remarkably elongated blind millipede possessing essentially the most legs — 1,306, to be exact — of any recognized animal.
The threadlike pale-colored millipede reaches about 3-1/2 inches (95 mm) lengthy and about four-hundredths of an inch (0.95 mm) extensive, with a conical head, beak-shaped mouth and enormous antennae — possible one among its solely sources of sensory enter as a result of it lacks eyes, scientists mentioned on Thursday.
“Beforehand no recognized millipede truly had 1,000 legs regardless of the identify millipede that means ‘thousand toes,'” mentioned Virginia Tech entomologist Paul Marek, lead writer of the analysis printed within the journal Scientific Reviews.
The creature is named Eumillipes persephone. The handful of people found lived as much as nearly 200 toes (60 meters) underground. Females had extra legs than males.
“For my part this can be a gorgeous animal, a marvel of evolution,” mentioned research co-author Bruno Buzatto, a principal biologist at Bennelongia Environmental Consultants in Perth, Australia.
“It represents essentially the most excessive elongation discovered thus far in millipedes, which had been the primary animals to beat land. And this species particularly managed to adapt to residing tens of meters deep within the soil, in an arid and harsh panorama the place it is extremely onerous to search out any millipedes surviving within the floor,” Buzatto added.
Till now, the leggiest animal recognized was a California millipede species known as Illacme plenipes, with 750 legs.
The researchers suspect that evolving so many legs helped Eumillipes.
“We consider that the big variety of legs offers a bonus when it comes to traction/power to push their our bodies ahead by small gaps and fractures within the soil the place they stay,” Buzatto mentioned.
The species lives in full darkness in a subterranean habitat loaded with iron and volcanic rocks. Missing eyes, it makes use of different senses reminiscent of contact and odor to understand its surroundings. It belongs to a household of fungi-eating millipedes, so the researchers suspect that’s what it eats.
It was found in Western Australia state’s Goldfields-Esperance area in an space the place miners dig for gold and different minerals together with lithium and vanadium. 4 Eumillipes people had been described within the research and one other 4 have been discovered. None of them had been noticed alive.
One of many grownup females described within the research had 1,306 legs and the opposite had 998. One of many two grownup males had 818 legs and the opposite had 778.
The variety of legs will not be uniform inside millipede species as a result of they molt — shedding their powerful outer layer — develop and add four-legged segments all through their life.
“It is fairly frequent in millipedes for people to realize extra legs as they molt in order that older people have extra legs than juveniles,” Buzatto mentioned.
Usually millipedes have about 100 to 200 legs. After millipedes, centipedes have the best variety of legs, as much as as many as 382. Centipedes have one pair of legs per physique phase whereas millipedes have two pairs.
The newly found creature’s scientific identify means “true thousand toes” and references Persephone, the queen of the underworld in historical Greek mythology.
Millipedes — slow-moving arthropods associated to centipedes, bugs and crustaceans — first appeared greater than 400 million years in the past.
Roughly 13,000 species are recognized at the moment, residing in all types of environments, feeding on decaying vegetation and fungi. They play an vital ecosystem function by breaking down the matter on which they feed, liberating up its constituent elements reminiscent of carbon, nitrogen and easy sugars.
“These vitamins can then be utilized by future generations of life,” Marek mentioned.