Scientists have discovered a small thread-like millipede that has been recognized as the evolutionary cousin of the leggiest creature in the world, another millipede known as Illacme plenipes.
The newly-discovered millipede was named Illacme tobini after cave biologist Ben Tobin of the National Park Service who helped to discover it. The arthropod was uncovered together with many spiders, pseudoscorpions, and flies in unexplored marble caves in California’s Sequoia National Park.
An analysis published in the open access journal ZooKeys has revealed the new species has 414 legs, as opposed to its leggier relative’s 750 limbs, yet, it has a similar complement of peculiar physiological features, such as a body equipped with 200 poison glands, hairs that release silk, and four penises.
“I never would have expected that a second species of the leggiest animal on the planet would be discovered in a cave 150 miles away,” study author Paul Marek, an assistant professor of entomology at Virginia Tech, said in a news release.
Many Legs for Many Occasions
In addition to having hundreds of legs, the newly-discovered millipede also has odd-looking mouthparts of an inexplicable function, four legs that are changed into penises, a body coated in long silk-secreting hairs, and coupled nozzles on every on of its more than 100 segments that spray a defense substance of an unidentified nature, the scientists said in their report.
The study authors concluded that by investigating our world and recording the biodiversity of this planet we can stop anonymous extinction, a phenomenon involving a species going extinct before we recognize of its role in the ecosystem, prospective benefit to humanity, or its splendor.
Upon rediscovering the leggiest millipede living outside Silicon Valley back in 2012, researchers noted that the growth of so many legs might be an adaption to its lifestyle spent digging underground or perhaps to enable it to hang on to the sandstone boulders in its habitat.
“To tell you the truth, and this is the experience every time I find a species I´ve never seen before, it was an exhilarating experience,” Marek told Scientific American at the time. “Even when reading about other entomological discoveries (whether it be the Lord Howe Island stick insect or bioluminescent cockroaches) it´s exciting to think about all the fantastic and diverse life forms that live with us on the planet.”
Image credit: Paul Marek, Virginia Tech
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