Deep underground in an exploratory borehole in a mining region of Australia, researchers have discovered a “wonder of evolution”, a remarkably elongated blind millipede that has the most legs – 1,306, to be exact – of any known animal. The filamentous pale millipede reaches about 3-1 / 2 inches (95 mm) long and about four hundredths of an inch (0.95 mm) wide, with a conical head, beak-shaped mouth and large antennae – probably one of its only sources of sensory input because it lacks eyes, scientists said Thursday. “Previously, no known millipede actually had 1,000 legs despite the name millipede meaning ‘thousand feet,'” said Virginia Tech entomologist Paul Marek, lead author of the research published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The creature is called Eumillipes persephone. The handful of individuals discovered lived up to nearly 200 feet (60 meters) underground. The females had more legs than the males. “In my opinion, this is an amazing animal, a marvel of evolution,” said study co-author Bruno Buzatto, a senior biologist at Bennelongia Environmental Consultants in Perth, Australia.
“It represents the most extreme elongation found to date in millipedes, which were the first animals to conquer land. And this species in particular managed to adapt to living ten meters deep in the ground, in a dry and rugged landscape “where it is very difficult to find any millipedes that survive in the surface,” Buzatto added.
Until now, the longest animal known was a California millipede species called Illacme plenipes, with 750 legs.
The researchers suspect that the development of so many legs helped Eumillipes.
“We believe that the large number of legs provides an advantage in terms of traction / force to push their bodies forward through small holes and fractures in the ground where they live,” Buzatto said.
The species lives in complete darkness in an underground habitat filled with iron and volcanic rocks. Since it lacks eyes, it uses other senses such as touch and smell to perceive its environment. It belongs to a family of fungus-eating millipedes, so scientists suspect that is what it eats.
It was discovered in Western Australia’s Goldfields-Esperance region in an area where miners are digging for gold and other minerals, including lithium and vanadium. Four Eumillipes individuals were described in the study and a further four have been found. None of them were observed alive.
One of the adult females described in the study had 1,306 legs and the other had 998. One of the two adult males had 818 legs and the other had 778.
The number of bones is not uniform within millipede species because they melt – and release their hard outer layers – grow and add four-legged segments throughout their lives.
“It’s quite common in millipedes that individuals get more bones when they melt, so older individuals have more bones than young ones,” Buzatto said.
Millipedes typically have about 100 to 200 legs. After millipedes, millipedes have the largest number of bones, up to as many as 382. Millipedes have a few bones per. body segment, while millipedes have two pairs.
The scientific name of the newly discovered being means “true thousand feet” and refers to Persephone, the queen of the underworld in ancient Greek mythology.
Millipedes – slow-moving arthropods related to millipedes, insects and crustaceans – first appeared more than 400 million years ago.
Today, about 13,000 species are known to live in all possible environments and feed on rotting vegetation and fungi. They play an important ecosystem role by breaking down the substance on which they live and releasing its constituents such as carbon, nitrogen and simple sugars.
“These nutrients can then be used by future generations of life,” Marek said.