The millipedes we thought we knew were a lie. These arthropods’ Latin name alludes to a massive set of 1,000 feet. Despite this, no millipede with more than 750 legs had ever been discovered. Until now, that is.
This 1,306-legged millipede is the first to live up to its name by tunnelling through thick earth. It is, in fact, the leggiest monster ever discovered crawling the Earth. It was identified in Western Australia’s semi-arid scrubland by scientists. They called the new species Eumillipes persephone and described it in Scientific Reports on December 16. Why? Persephone (Per-SEF-uh-nee) was the queen of the underworld in Greek mythology.
Researchers inserted leaf litter-baited cups into mineral prospecting drill holes. Each hole reached a depth of up to 60 metres (197 ft). A group of eight unusually long, threadlike millipedes were snatched from the dirt by the leafy chunks of bait. They were unlike any other creature on the planet. These organisms were then submitted to Virginia Tech entomologist Paul Marek in Blacksburg for further examination.
Millipedes have been on the planet for about 400 million years. Some of them grew to be two metres (6.6 feet) long in the past. The new species is much smaller, measuring around the same length as a credit card or four small paper clips stacked end to end.
The little animals are all white or cream-colored. Their heads resemble drill bits and are devoid of eyes. These insects’ massive antennas aid them in navigating a dark world. According to Marek, these latter three characteristics indicate a subterranean lifestyle. He knew she was absolutely unusual while scrutinising one female under a microscope, he says of the 95 millimetre (3.7 inch) specimen. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, thing has over 1,000 legs,'” says the author.
She had 1,306 little feet, which was nearly double the previous record holder. “It’s awe-inspiring,” Marek says. Each of their bodies had a colossal number of segments. There were 330 of them on one female.
E. persephone’s long, leg-packed body, according to the researchers, allows it to tunnel through dirt in up to eight directions at once. It reminds me of a tangled strand of moving pasta. “We think it eats fungi,” Marek says. It’s unknown what kinds of fungi live in these deep, dark soils.
While Marek is unsure of many things about E. persephone, he is certain of one thing: “Textbooks are going to have to be changed.” He claims that mentioning millipedes will no longer necessitate the line that their name is actually a misnomer. “At long last, we have a real millipede,” he observes.