A team of spelunking entomologists has discovered a bizarre new organism while exploring caves in America’s Sequoia National Park. The creature is a strange new type of millipede and is one of only two known members of its genus. The millipede has been named Illacme tobini and has the distinction of possessing the second-greatest number of legs of any known living thing on Earth. The creature with the greatest number of legs at 750, Illacme plenipes, is a close evolutionary relative. As of now, these two millipedes are the only known species in the Illacme genus.
Illacme tobini possesses a host of strange anatomical features including a pair of poison-spraying nozzles on each of its one hundred body segments that eject an unknown toxin. The creature’s mouthparts are unlike any other observed insect physiology, and four of the millipede’s legs serve as modified penises. Even stranger, the millipede’s entire body is covered in fine hairs that can secrete a unique type of millipede silk. Gross.
The diplopodologists – millipede researchers – who discovered the strange new insect have published their findings in ZooKeys. According to the published findings, these two millipedes have the potential to change our understanding of the entire family of millipedes called Siphonorhinidae, about which scientists still know very little:
Because there are so few species in the Siphonorhinidae and little is known about the family from a basic α-taxonomic and biological perspective, the discovery of a novel species provides significant new data.
The authors go on to claim that the deep caves of the Sequoia National Forest represent an unknown frontier in terms of zoology, what they call a “cryptic ecosystem. In their article, the researchers suggest that because several novel species have been discovered living within such a small geographic area, there could be many more unknown organisms lurking deep within the Earth in this remote cave system:
Illacme species have extremely limited known geographic ranges. This feature suggests a formerly widespread, perhaps ancient, distribution, and/or membership in a larger hidden diversification in California encompassing many undiscovered taxa.
Of course, a race of eyeless alien mole people who crash landed on Earth aeons ago would have been more interesting. Nonetheless, discoveries of new species deep within the Earth show us just how little we know about life here on our own planet, much less in space.