Eumillipes persephone has claimed the title of the “leggiest” animal in the world. This leggy millipede with more than 1,000 legs was discovered more than 60 metres underground in Australia. When the males were found to have mere 818 legs, the females, which are also more than one and a half times the size, had an extraordinary 1,306 legs.
The discovery recorded in Scientific Reports mentioned that this diminutive animal (0.95 mm wide, 95.7 mm long) has 330 segments, a cone-shaped head with enormous antennae and a beak for feeding. Discovered below ground in a drill hole created for mineral exploration, the millipede possessed troglomorphic features; it lacks eyes and pigmentation, and it has a greatly elongated body-features that stand in stark contrast to its closest surface dwelling relatives in Australia and all other members of its order.
The previous heavy hitter of the millipede world was Illacme plenipes, a millipede found in California. Like E. persephone, it is a burrower, but only had a maximum of 750 legs, leaving it significantly short of 1,000. It also came up short in terms of depth. Researchers came across E. persephone as the result of mineral exploration in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. This involved digging 56 holes of varying heights into the soil to assess the precious minerals that might be found there. In April 2020, two juveniles were revealed in the drill holes, leading researchers to set a trap 60 metres below the surface. In August, five adults were collected from the trap, while another juvenile was caught in January 2021.
At first, researchers believed that they might have been members of the same family as I. plenipes, as they looked very similar. However, it turned out that the creatures they had discovered were from a very different part of the millipede family tree.
Eumillipes, is derived from the Latin words for ‘true’, ‘thousand’ and ‘foot’, recognising it as the first, and so far only, millipede to have more than 1,000 legs. Its specific name, persephone, refers to a Greek goddess who moved to the underworld when she married its ruler, Hades. It was given this name as the scientists believe it could have originally been a surface-dweller, but gradually adapted for life underground as the surface became drier and less inhabitable. conditions in the soil generally maintain a similar temperature and level of groundwater, providing a stable environment to live in.