Found: the first centipede with over 1,000 legs

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A female of the longest new animal on the planet, Eumillipes persephone, with 330 segments and 1,306 legs. The straight line is 0.5mm long. Photo: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-02447-0


  • One of the adult females described in a new study had 1,306 legs and the other had 998 legs. One of the two adult males had 818 legs and the other 778.
  • It was discovered in the Goldfields-Esperance region of the state of Western Australia, in an area where miners dig for gold, lithium and vanadium.
  • Until now, the slenderest animal known has been a species of California millipede called Illacme plenipi, with 750 legs.

Deep underground in an exploratory drill hole in a mining region of Australia, scientists have discovered an “evolutionary wonder,” a remarkably elongated blind centipede with the most legs – 1,306, to be precise – of all known animals.

The pale-colored filiform centipede grows to about 3 1/2 inches (95 mm) long and about four hundredths of an inch (0.95 mm) wide, with a conical head, beak-like mouth and large antennas – likely one of its only sources of sensory input because it lacks eyes, scientists said Thursday.

“Previously, no known centipede actually had 1,000 feet despite the name millipede meaning ‘thousand feet’,” said Virginia Tech entomologist Paul Marek, senior author of the research paper published in the journal Scientific reports on nature.

The creature is called Eumilipes persephone. The handful of individuals discovered lived as much as 60 meters underground. Females had more legs than males.

“In my opinion, he is a magnificent animal, an evolutionary wonder,” said study co-author Bruno Buzatto, senior biologist at Bennelongia Environmental Consultants in Perth, Australia.

“It represents the most extreme elongation found to date in centipedes, which were the first animals to conquer the earth. And this species in particular has managed to adapt to live tens of meters deep in the ground, in an arid and harsh landscape where it is very difficult to find surviving centipedes on the surface, ”added Buzatto. .

Until now, the slenderest animal known has been a species of California millipede called Illacme plenipi, with 750 legs.

Researchers suspect that the evolution of so many legs helped Eumillipes.

“We believe that the large number of legs provides an advantage in terms of traction / strength to push their body forward through small gaps and fractures in the ground where they live,” said Buzatto.

The species lives in total darkness in an underground habitat laden with iron and volcanic rocks. Lacking eyes, he uses other senses such as touch and smell to perceive his surroundings. He belongs to a family of mushroom-eating centipedes, so researchers suspect this is what he eats.

It was discovered in the Goldfields-Esperance region of the state of Western Australia, in an area where miners dig for gold, lithium and vanadium. Four individuals of Eumillipes were described in the study and four more were found. None of them have been observed alive.

One of the adult females described in the study had 1,306 legs and the other had 998 legs. One of the two adult males had 818 legs and the other had 778 legs.

The number of legs is not uniform within centipede species as they molt – shedding their hard outer layer – develop and add four-legged segments throughout their lives.

“It is quite common in centipedes that individuals acquire more legs as they moult, so older individuals have more legs than juveniles,” Buzatto said.

Typically, millipedes have around 100 to 200 legs. After centipedes, millipedes have the highest number of legs, up to 382. Millipedes have one pair of legs per body segment while centipedes have two pairs.

The scientific name of the newly discovered creature means “true thousand feet” and refers to Persephone, the queen of the underworld in ancient Greek mythology.

Millipedes – slow-moving arthropods related to centipedes, insects and crustaceans – first appeared over 400 million years ago.

About 13,000 species are known today, living in all kinds of environments, feeding on decaying vegetation and fungi. They play an important role in the ecosystem by breaking down the material they feed on, releasing its building blocks such as carbon, nitrogen and simple sugars.

“These nutrients can then be used by future generations for life,” said Marek.

(Thomson Reuters Foundation – report by Will Dunham in Washington; edited by Rosalba O’Brien)

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