Eumillipes persephone, the new record-setting species of millipede from Western Australia, is a diminutive (0.95 mm wide and 95.7 mm long) animal with 330 segments, a cone-shaped head, enormous antennae, and a beak for feeding.
“Among the earliest animals to breathe atmospheric oxygen and with some extinct species that grew to 2 m in length, millipedes have lived on our planet for more than 400 million years,” said Dr. Paul Marek of Virginia Tech and colleagues.
“Important as decomposers in terrestrial ecosystems, primary knowledge of millipede diversity lags tremendously behind other animal groups.”
“The name millipede translates to a thousand feet (from mille ‘thousand’ and pes ‘foot’). However, until now, no millipede had ever been described with more than 750 legs.”
Dr. Marek and co-authors discovered Eumillipes persephone about 60 m below ground in a drill hole created for mineral exploration in the mining area of the Eastern Goldfields Province, Australia.
“Eumillipes persephone is the first super-elongated millipede known from Australia, and the new world record holder of the animal with greatest number of legs,” they said.
“It belongs to the family Siphonotidae (order Polyzoniida), yet appears similar to super-elongated millipedes in the order Siphonophorida.”
“Eumillipes persephone lives deep underground, and it was only discovered by surveying geological drill holes originally created for mineral exploration that provided access to a cryptic and previously unexplored underground habitat.”
The researchers measured four individuals of Eumillipes persephone and found that they have long, thread-like bodies consisting of up to 330 segments and are up to 0.95 mm wide and 95.7 mm long.
The new species has short legs and a cone-shaped head with antennae and a beak.
It also has several troglomorphic features: it lacks eyes and pigmentation, and it has a greatly elongated body — features that stand in stark contrast to its closest surface-dwelling relatives in Australia.
“Analysis of the relationships between species suggests that Eumillipes persephone is distantly related to the previous record holder for the greatest number of legs — Illacme plenipes, a species of millipede from California,” the scientists said.
The striking morphological similarity between these species is a result of convergent evolution, probably for locomotion in similar soil habitats.
“The findings highlight the biodiversity found within the Eastern Goldfields Province,” the authors concluded.
“To minimise the impact of mining in this region on Eumillipes persephone, we advise that efforts should be made to conserve its underground habitat.”
The discovery of Eumillipes persephone is described in a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.
P.E. Marek et al. 2021. The first true millipede — 1306 legs long. Sci Rep 11, 23126; doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-02447-0
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