- Researchers have named the new species Illacme tobini after Ben Tobin, a cave specialist and hydrologist at Grand Canyon National Park who helped organize and carry out the cave survey that uncovered the only known specimen of the new species.
- The millipede has four legs that are modified into penises, and a body covered in silk-secreting hairs, and 200 poison glands.
- The new species has a small distribution, and appears to be restricted to the base of Yucca Mountain between the North and Marble forks of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, California.
Inside a dark, marble cavern in Sequoia National Park, California, scientists have discovered a new species of a very “leggy” millipede.
The tiny thread-like millipede has 414 legs, and is cousin to the 750-legged Illacme plenipes, the leggiest known millipede on earth, the researchers write in a study published in the journal ZooKeys. The new millipede is the only other species of the genus Illacme to have ever been discovered, researchers say.
“I never would have expected that a second species of the leggiest animal on the planet would be discovered in a cave 150 miles away,” co-author Paul Marek, Assistant Professor in the Entomology Department at Virginia Tech, said in a statement. “It’s closest relative lives under giant sandstone boulders outside of San Juan Bautista, California.”
The researchers have named the new species Illacme tobini after Ben Tobin, a cave specialist and hydrologist at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Tobin helped organize and carry out the cave survey in 2006 that uncovered the only known specimen of I. tobini, a male individual. Since then, researchers have searched nearby areas extensively, but have found no additional specimens of this species.
The newly described millipede has an odd set of features. The millipede’s 20 millimeters-long body is covered in spines, tubercles, and silk-secreting hairs. Four of its legs are modified into penises or gonopods that it uses to transfer sperm into the female. It also has some 200 pores, which secrete some unidentified substance, possibly a defense chemical of some sort, researchers speculate.
The new species has a small distribution, and appears to be restricted to the base of Yucca Mountain between the North and Marble forks of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park, the authors write. Activities that may impact the surface or subsurface of this region should be carefully considered, they add.
“Actions that include vegetation changes, ground disturbance, or alteration of drainage patterns should be restricted in scope to preserve the soil and moisture of this river basin,” the researchers write.
The discovery of I. tobini comes almost 90 years after the discovery of I. plenipes in 1928. Both millipedes belong to the cryptic family Siphonorhinidae, and are the sole representatives of the family in the Western Hemisphere, according to the study.
- Marek PE, Krejca JK, Shear WA (2016) A new species ofIllacme Cook & Loomis, 1928 from Sequoia National Park, California, with a world catalog of the Siphonorhinidae (Diplopoda, Siphonophorida). ZooKeys 626: 1-43. doi: 3897/zookeys.626.9681
Correction, 11/07/2016, 07:30 am Eastern: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the Grand Canyon National Park is in California. The National Park is in Arizona. We have corrected the sentence, and we regret the error.