It is a well-known fact among entomologists that whoever named the centipede first acted dramatically. Its name means “thousand-footed,” but no centipede has a thousand feet.
At least so far this has been true.
A discovery deep within the Australian surface has shown that “centipede” isn’t always a misnomer. Researchers have found a new species that may have more than 1,300 legs. The finding was: Published Thursday in Scientific Reports.
“This is very exciting for me,” said Paul Marek, an entomologist at Virginia Tech.
He first learned of the creature in September 2020, when a message arrived in his inbox. Bruno Buzatto, a biologist at Bennelongia Environmental Consultants in Western Australia, had included images of a pale creature without eyes but with many legs. It was a few inches long but less than a millimeter wide, resembling a piece of angel hair pasta.
Dr. Buzatto had found the threadlike animal living deep within 200 feet of the ground in narrow boreholes in Western Australia. Mining companies dig these holes to look for minerals like gold and nickel, and they hire environmental consultants to study how mining can affect wildlife. One of these consultants, Dr. Buzatto had baited the traps with damp leaf litter, dropped them into boreholes, and then reeled eight of the pale noodles.
Dr. “Honestly, when I first saw the animals, I was immediately excited,” Buzatto said. He thought it had to be related. Very tall centipede from California. This species also lives underground, cream colored and eyeless, and was a standing record holder with up to 750 legs. Dr. As Marek studies long-legged California centipedes, Dr. Buzatto sent him photos of the strange Australian specimens. to see what you think.
A preliminary count revealed a person with more than 800 legs. This was not the last word, as some species of centipedes can add legs throughout their adult lives. After a few weeks and some complicated paperwork, carcasses of Australian centipedes arrived in Virginia by mail. There, painstaking counting with a microscope revealed a female with 1,306 legs.
Dr. “It was mind-blowing because it was almost twice as large as previous centipedes,” Marek said. “Seven hundred and fifty seems like a lot of legs for an animal. One thousand three hundred and six is pretty surprising.”
Scientists named the new species Eumillipes persephone – Eumillipes means “true centipede,” and Persephone was the goddess in Greek mythology who was dragged into the underworld by Hades.
Like Persephone, the ancestors of this species must have started life on the surface. At some point in its evolutionary history, the centipede began to move deeper underground, perhaps because Australia above became more arid and uninhabitable.
Genetic analysis showed that Euillipes was not a close relative of the very long-legged California centipedes, despite their striking resemblance. This suggests that underground life drove both species to evolve similarly. Both became pale and eyeless, like many cave-dwelling animals. Both have large antennae. Dr. Marek said their many, many legs might give them more power to push the earth and make their way through the corkscrew.
Having an extra-long gut can also help millipedes get more nutrients from a sparse diet, he said.
Dr. Marek hopes the find will draw attention to biodiversity underground, a valuable resource hiding alongside precious metals. He’s also excited to break the record for how many legs a centipede can have.
“All those textbooks will have to be rewritten,” he said. “At least that paragraph about centipedes.” (Misunderstood in their own way, centipedes may have a few dozen to several hundred legs—but never exactly 100, because they always have an odd number of pairs of legs.)
Dr. Marek also noted that these eight specimens probably do not represent the entire size range of the species: “There might be one with more legs out there.”