Meet the 750-leg Millipede

There are around 10,000 species of millipedes, but the one with the most legs of all is Illacme plenipes. It was thought to be extinct, but 17 living specimens were discovered in the past seven years ago in San Benito County, California, by Paul Marek of the University of Arizona and his team.

The rareness of the millipede meant that from 1928 until 2005—when Marek, then a Ph.D. student, found a few specimens in the woods near San Juan Bautista—most scientists had simply assumed the species had gone extinct. Over the past seven years, Marek and his colleagues have taken several trips to the area, typically searching for hours before finding a single specimen clinging to the side of a boulder or tunneling four to six inches down into the ground.

In studying these specimens under a microscope, Marek has discovered a number of surprising characteristics that go beyond its legs. ”It basically looks like a thread,” Marek told LiveScience. “It has an uninteresting outward appearance, but when we looked at it with SEM [scanning electron microscopes] and compound microscopes, we found a huge, amazingly complex anatomy.”

Complex anatomy, indeed, as the millipede has no eyes and produces silk! See closeups of the unusual features and read about the strange bug at Smithsonian's Surprising Science blog. Link


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