“Real” millipedes discovered for the first time – wissenschaft.de

The previous record was 750 feet – but now, for the first time, the centipede actually lives up to its name: scientists have discovered a new representative that is as high as 1,306 feet. The record crawler, which is about ten centimeters long, has remained unknown until now, as it lives deep underground in Australia: it was discovered in boreholes up to 60 meters deep. Biologists explain that his numerous little legs apparently allow him to walk agile through tiny cracks in the rock.

Thousands of representatives of the so-called Myriapoda sneak through various habitats around the world. While they all have an amazing number of feet, most are well under 1,000 feet. This was even true of the previous record holder: the Californian centipede Illacme plenipes has up to 750 small legs. But as scientists led by Paul Mark of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg now report, the new leader surpassed the number that gave him his name for the first time.

found deep underground

They discovered a new species in drilling operations during a geological survey in a mining area in Western Australia. Scientists have lowered special little traps to study underground creatures. In total, they collected eight new millipedes – five of which came from a depth of about 60 meters. They then used microscopic analyzes to record the anatomical features of these unusual creepers and also performed genetic studies to classify them in the Myriapoda family system.

By counting, biologists set a new record: the centipede from inland Australia is 1,306 feet – almost twice the size of Illacme’s plenipes. The new species has been given the scientific name Eumillipes persefona. It comes from the Greek word eu- (truth), the Latin words mille (thousand) and pes (foot), and also refers to the Greek goddess of the underworld – Persephone. The largest one was 95.7 millimeters long and only 0.95 millimeters wide. The threadlike body is divided into as many as 330 segments, which allows for great flexibility. As shown by microscopic examinations, the persephone Eumillipes has no eyes, has a conical structure on the head and quite long antennae.

Dexterous on the move at 1,306 feet

Scientists say it looks very similar to the previous record holder, Illacme plenipes. However, as their genetic studies show, it is only distantly related to the California Centipede. Rather, it belongs to the Myriapoda group, which are also found on the surface of the earth in Australia. Persephone Eumillipes, however, differs significantly from them in adapting to life in the depths. The scientists explain that the external resemblance to Illacme plenipes is a case of parallel evolution. Because the Californian with an unusually large number of feet also lives underground – but only to a depth of 11.5 meters.

The authors suspect that many of the segments and feet that have evolved in both species are used to move around in their tightly structured environment. Because these adjustments allow extreme flexibility and full-length thrust to pass through tiny holes and cracks in the ground. Scientists write that the record-breaking properties of E. persephone probably result from moving in its particularly deep soil microenvironment. However, scientists cannot say exactly what the millipede eats at depths of up to 60 meters. It probably feeds on mushroom nets.

It also remains unclear how widespread the species could be, and whether other Myriapod members sneak underground somewhere in the world at an altitude of more than a thousand feet. Ultimately, the find makes it clear that there are probably many unknown creatures to be discovered in the depths of the earth.

Source: Scientific reports, doi: 10.1038 / s41598-021-02447-0

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