1 Thousand Legs, 1,306 Legs: We Just Discovered The World’s Longest Animal Hiding In Australia – Jammu Kashmir Latest News | Tourism | Breaking News J&K


Perth, December 17: Millipedes were the first land animals, and today we know of more than 13,000 species. There are probably thousands more species of the many-legged invertebrates waiting to be discovered and formally scientifically described.
The name “millipede” comes from Latin for “thousand feet”, but until now no known species had more than 750 legs. But my colleagues and I have recently found a new champion.
The eyeless, underground Eumillipes persephone, discovered 60 meters underground near the south coast of Western Australia, has up to 1,306 legs, making it the first “true millipede” and the longest animal on Earth.
Finding life underground
In Australia, most species in some groups of invertebrates are still undescribed. Many may even become extinct before we know it.
Part of the reason is that life is everywhere, even where we least expect it. You might be excused for thinking that remote areas of Western Australia, such as Pilbara and the Goldfields, where the land is dry and harsh, are not home to too many species.
But the reality is very different. An enormously diverse range of poorly known animals live underground, and they live in cavities and cracks in the rock several meters below the surface.
One way to find out about these creatures is to place “troglofauna traps” far below the surface. E. Persephone was found in one of these traps, which had spent two months 60 m underground in a mine exploration well in Goldfields.
A lucky discovery
At the time, I worked for a company called Bennelongia Environmental Consultants, which had been hired by the mining company to study the animals in the area. I was so lucky to be in the lab the day the longest animal on Earth was first seen.
Our senior taxonomist, Jane McRae, showed me these incredibly elongated millipedes, less than a millimeter wide and nearly 10 centimeters long. She pointed out how their triangular faces placed them in the family Siphonotidae, which consists of sucking millipedes from the order Polyzoniida.
Their long, thin, pale bodies, with hundreds of legs, reminded me of a paper I had read years earlier, which described the longest millipede in the world, the California Illacme plenipes, which bore 750 legs. Back in 2007, while teaching zoology at Campinas State University in Brazil, I used that paper to explain to students how no millipede species in the world really had 1,000 legs.
Often, popular names are scientifically inaccurate, but in front of me I had an animal that had a chance to finally make the name millipede biologically correct.
Finally a true millipede
I suggested to Jane that our new specimens might be more in line with I. Plenipes, which belongs to a different order of millipedes, Siphonophorida.
We consulted Mark Harvey of the WA Museum, and together we were surprised to realize that Siphonophorida is very rare in Australia: There are only three known species, all found on the East Coast.
Next, I contacted Paul Marek at Virginia Tech in the United States, a millipede expert and lead author of that paper on the 750-legged I. Plenipes. He was excited to receive the samples a few weeks later.
This new species turned out to have up to 1,306 legs, making it the first true millipede. Paul called it the Persephone of Eumillipe, referring to its “true 1,000-foot” nature, and to Persephone, the goddess of the underworld of Greek mythology, who was taken from the surface by Hades.
Why so many legs?
E. Persephone was most likely driven to his underground life as the landscape above became warmer and drier over millions of years. We eventually discovered that Jane was right about the nature of E. Persephone: it is actually a member of the family Siphonotidae, only distantly related to I. Plenipes, and is therefore the only species in the entire order Polyzoniida without eyes.
We classify any millipede with more than 180 body segments as “superflange”. E. Persephone has 330.
With a genetic analysis, we found that super-elongation has evolved repeatedly in millipedes, and it may be an adaptation to live underground.
The large number of legs probably provides increased traction and power to push their bodies through small holes and fractures in the ground. But this is only a hypothesis at this stage, and we have no direct evidence that having multiple legs is an adaptation to underground life.
To find the unknown
Finding this incredible species, which represents a unique branch of the millipede tree of life, is a small first step towards the conservation of the underground biodiversity in arid landscapes.
This starts with documenting new species, assessing their vulnerability and ultimately designing conservation priorities and management plans.
A large proportion of the species in arid Australia are undescribed. For underground fauna, this can be more than 90%. Not knowing that these animals exist makes it impossible to assess their conservation status.
Biodiversity studies, and in particular the taxonomy that supports them, are incredibly important. Taxonomists such as Jane, Paul and Mark are the unsung heroes of conservation. (Conversations)
(AGENCIES)





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