"King of the Cave" Centipede Found In Romania's Prehistoric Movile

A photo of the newly discovered species (Cryptops speleorex), the largest inhabitant of the Movile cave (Romania) known to date. Mihai Baciu, GESS LAB, Mangalia.CC by 4.0

Deep in a Romanian cave where oxygen concentrations are around half what we’re used to and sulfur is everywhere, researchers have been on the hunt for life. Here, a unique ecosystem has established itself despite the unfavorable conditions thanks to the presence of chemosynthetic bacteria which eats carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. Hanging out in such a place would spell death for humans, but a new research published in the journal ZooKeys reveals, this hellscape for a habitat has a ruler: a troglobiont centipede. The beast is just 52 millimeters (2.5 inches) in length but is the largest of the cave inhabitants discovered in Movile so far. Cryptops speleorex, as it’s been named, translates to "King of the cave" and represents the centipede standing among its contemporaries.

The Movile cave was first cut off from the outside work back in the Neogene, many millions of years ago. It remained isolated until its discovery in 1986 by a team of Romanian workers who were scouting for a spot upon which to build a power plant. You might think that such a space, cut off from the wider world and exhibiting inhospitable conditions, would be devoid of life but it was soon discovered that the cave was home to its own brand of life. So far, researchers have discovered a troglobiont water scorpion, liocranid and nesticid spiders, cave leeches and it’s expected there’s much more to be found. You can see more of the species that have been discovered in Movile cave here.

The team behind the centipede’s identification and discovery as King of the Cave began investigating the creature as they had doubts about existing theories that Movile was inhabited by surface-dwelling species widespread in Europe. The specimen had been collected by speleologists Serban Sarbu and Alexandra Maria Hillebrand and was passed on to scientists Dr Varpu Vahtera (University of Turku, Finland), Prof Pavel Stoev (National Museum of Natural History, Bulgaria) and Dr Nesrine Akkari (Museum of Natural History Vienna, Austria) to examine the curious centipede.

"Our results confirmed our doubts and revealed that the Movile centipede is morphologically and genetically different, suggesting that it has been evolving from its closest surface-dwelling relative over the course of millions of years into an entirely new taxon that is better adapted to life in the never-ending darkness," explained the researchers in a statement. "The centipede we described is a venomous predator, by far the largest of the previously described animals from this cave.”

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