A new species of carnivorous centipede was discovered in the caves of Velebit Mountain in central Croatia. It’s the deepest underground-dwelling centipede known, and researchers have named it Geophilus hadesi after Hades, who rules over the dead in the underworld of Greek mythology. The new species is described in ZooKeys.
The centipede was discovered by members of the Croatian Biospeleological Society in the dark vaults of three caves. A total of four have been found, and the deepest one was living at an unreachable spot 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) below the surface in Lukina jama–Trojama, the 15th deepest cave in the world. The other two caves were Muda labudova and Munižaba (its entrance is pictured below).
The Hades centipede has 33 pairs of legs, and it ranges between 2.2 to 2.8 centimeters in length. Like most cave-dwellers, Geophilus hadesi sports a suite of unusual traits, including elongated trunk segments, leg claws, and antennae about five times as long as its head. The centipede from hell is a top predator too. It preys on other invertebrates with its powerful jaws bearing poison glands and long curved claws that tightly grasp onto larvae and other small cave crawlies.
"When I first saw the animal and its striking appearance, I immediately realized that this is a new, hitherto unnamed and highly adapted to cave environment species," Pavel Stoev from Bulgaria’s National Museum of Natural History says in a statement. "This finding comes to prove once again how little we know about the life in caves, where even in the best prospected areas, one can still find incredible animals."
The new species belongs to the order Geophilomorpha, but most other centipedes in this group only occasionally reside in caves. Those whose entire life cycles are confined to these environments are exceedingly rare. In fact, the new Geophilus hadesi and Geophilus persephones (named in 1999 after Hades’ bride, Persephone) are the only two geophilomorphs that have adapted to living exclusively in caves.
Researchers aren’t sure why these hellish centipedes started living underground to begin with. As Stoev tells Live Science: "It could be a dramatic change in the outside temperatures and overall conditions that forced less-adaptive organisms to seek shelter underground where the conditions are more stable and less dependent on the outside fluctuations."
The entrance of cave Munižaba. D. Bakšić CC-BY 4.0