Friday, June 09, 2006
New Scientist reports:
It is a semi-mythical beast, rumoured to lurk under boulders and roam around on hundreds of pairs of legs, but it hasn't been seen for decades. Now after 80 years the world's leggiest animal has been rediscovered in a ravine in California.
Illacme plenipes, last reported in 1928, is a millipede that almost lives up to its name. Females are only about 32 millimetres long and half a millimetre wide, yet have up to 750 legs. Males are smaller, and only boast between 300 and 400 legs, two of which are modified into sex organs.
The species seems to be restricted to a single ravine in San Benito county, part of the California Floristic Province, a biodiversity hotspot. It was rediscovered by Jason Bond and Paul Marek of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, who say it is related to certain millipedes found in biodiversity hotspots in Asia, southern Africa and Australasia.
The distribution of this family of millipedes reinforces the importance of the hotspots as repositories of biodiversity - "although convincing landowners that a millipede is worthy of conservation could be a sticky problem," Bond says.