Millipede's 750 Wiggling Legs Snag World Record

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The world's leggiest creature on record is even more bizarre than its 750 wiggling limbs attest, according to new research.

The white millipede named lllacme plenipes (Latin for "the pinnacle plentiful feet") and found only in a small area of Northern California wowed researchers with its unusually complex build in such a tiny package - it measures 0.4-1.2 inches (1-3 centimeters) long.

"It basically looks like a thread," lead study author Paul Marek, a postdoctoral entomologist at the University of Arizona, told LiveScience. "It has an uninteresting outward appearance, but when we looked at it with SEM and compound microscopes, we found a huge, amazingly complex anatomy." (SEM stands for "scanning electron microscopy.")

A rudimentary fused mouth with no known function is among the oddities, as are hairs on its back that produce a silklike product. "There was this huge amount of neat detail that we're just scraping the surface of," Marek said.

Seeking millipedes

The research follows up on the 2006 rediscovery of the millipede, an elusive creature previously described in 1928.

After a patient search, Marek and colleagues from Hampden-Sydney College and Auburn University found the creatures clinging to sandstone boulders close to moist ground or roaming 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) deep in soil.

The millipedes are limited to a patch of grassy oak woodlands spanning about 1.7 square miles (4.5 square kilometers), or 823 football fields, near Oakland and Berkeley.

Over a three-year span, researchers found a total of 17 specimens in various life-cycle stages. Successful hunts required two researchers to examine an area for an hour before finding a single specimen. They stopped collecting specimens in 2007 to avoid depleting the species, which their surveys suggested is rare in the wild.

Read the rest of this November 14 article from Scientific American at the link below.

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