A millipede with 1306 legs has smashed the world record after being discovered 60 metres underground in Australia
16 December 2021
A millipede with over 1300 legs has smashed the world record for the most limbs, beating the previous holder’s mere 750.
The word millipede comes from the Latin words for thousand and foot, but most of them have a few hundred legs. The new record holder is the first to have more than 1000.
The species was found deep underground in the Goldfields region of Western Australia.
“When I laid eyes on the millipede, I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is extremely long’,” says Bruno Buzatto at Bennelongia Environmental Consultants in Perth, Western Australia.
Buzatto and his colleagues were surveying the area’s subterranean fauna to check for species that may be vulnerable to planned mining projects. The team lowered traps with baits down deep, narrow holes – each about 15 centimetres wide and up to 80 metres deep – that had been drilled by mining companies looking for mineral deposits.
They left the traps for several months to allow creatures from the surrounding soil to crawl in, then pulled them up and took them to a lab to see what was inside.
The team collected eight of the unusual-looking millipedes, mostly from a trap laid 60 metres down a drill hole. They sent them to Paul Marek, a millipede expert at Virginia Tech, who sequenced their DNA and studied them in detail under an electron microscope.
The longest individual – an adult female – was found to have 1306 legs, while the shortest had 778. Millipedes gradually become longer and grow more legs over their lifetimes, so the longest was probably the oldest, says Buzatto. Future surveys may uncover older individuals with even more legs, he says.
DNA sequencing showed that the Australian millipede was a newly discovered species, which has been named Eumillipes persephone after the Greek and Latin words for “true thousand feet” and Persephone, the queen of the underworld in Greek mythology.
The millipede is pale-coloured and thread-like, measuring 1 millimetre wide and up to 10 centimetres long. It has no eyes, but large antennae for feeling its way around and a beak for feeding.
The reason it has so many legs is probably to help it squeeze through narrow gaps in its underground environment, says Buzatto. “The more legs it has for pushing forward, the more strength it has to push itself through gaps,” he says.
Buzatto and his colleagues have returned to the same drill holes in the Goldfields to try to collect more of the millipedes, but have only found one more so far. “It seems they’re pretty special and rare,” he says.
The area is set to be turned into a vanadium mine, but Buzatto hopes the rare millipede will survive because the mine will only be 40 metres deep. “These animals live much deeper,” he says.
Many other mysterious creatures are thought to be lurking deep underground in Western Australia, which is one of the oldest land masses on Earth. “In these surveys, 80 to 90 per cent of what we pull up from the drill holes are new and undescribed,” says Buzatto. “We simply don’t have the time to describe everything, so a lot of animals just end up in the museum with a little code and a description of where they were found, until an expert on their particular family might come along one day and describe them.”
Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-02447-0
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