What’s the difference between a millipede and a centipede? Millipedes are packing two pairs of legs under every segment while centipedes have just one, making them the leggy blonde of Myriapoda. This is reflected in the name millipede, which is Latin for thousand (mille) and feet (ped) earning them the nickname "thousand leggers." This was a misnomer for a long time, as the most legs ever found on a millipede was 750, but now that’s all changed.
Meet Eumillipes persephone, a millipede found scrabbling around 60 meters (197 feet) underground in a mineral exploration drill hole in the Eastern Goldfields Province of Australia. In true Australian fashion, E. persephone went big in its body plan and now takes the number one spot for the largest number of legs on a single animal, with 1,306 legs. Its discovery has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The record-breaking millipede’s species name, Eumillipes persephone, is derived from the Greek word for true (eu) and the Latin for thousand foot (mille, pes). It’s a reference to this many-footed critter being the only “true millipede” as it’s actually packing over a thousand legs, unlike all those less-than-750-legs phonies.
Persephone was chosen in honor of the Greek goddess of the underworld who was also partial to subterranean life.
What E. persephone makes up for in (admittedly little) legs and long, noodly body (330 segments!), it seems it lacks elsewhere, being completely eyeless and having no pigmentation. It's not the first millipede discovered without peepers as many species are troglomorphic, meaning they live their entire lives in darkness either underground or in caves. Most likely they were ditched somewhere along their evolutionary paths as eyes became irrelevant in the pitch black.
An exciting find for fans of the Myriapoda, then, and one which the researchers on the study hope indicate there’s much more to be found in the mining area, highlighting the region as an exceptional repository of biodiversity.
“Whether troglomorphic species of Eumillipes exist in other parts of Western Australia is an uncertain, but potentially rich avenue of discovery,” concluded the study authors.
In light of the Eastern Goldfields Province of Western Australia being a potential treasure trove of many-legged specimens, the researchers are pushing for better protection for wildlife in the area to conserve biodiversity. While the mineral-rich earth is a fine spot for mining, it’s clearly a writhing underground habitat of academic interest, too.