Taylor Swift, the millipede: Scientists name a new species after the singer

Scientists described a total of 17 new species from the Appalachian Mountains—now published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Taylor Swift, U.S. singer-songwriter known for hits such as “Shake It Off” and “You Belong With Me”, has earned a new accolade—she now has a new species of millipede named in her honor.

Taylor Swift. Photo by Eva Rinaldi

The twisted-claw millipede Nannaria swiftae joins 16 other new species described from the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. These little-known invertebrates have a valuable role as decomposers: breaking down leaf litter, they release their nutrients into the ecosystem. They live on the forest floor, where they feed on decaying leaves and other plant matter, and in fact, they are somewhat tricky to catch, because they tend to remain buried in the soil, sometimes staying completely beneath the surface.

Her music helped me get through the highs and lows of graduate school, so naming a new millipede species after her is my way of saying thanks.

Derek Hennen

Scientists Derek Hennen, Jackson Means, and Paul Marek, at Virginia Tech, U.S., describe the new species in a research paper published in the open access journal ZooKeys. The research was funded by a National Science Foundation Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics grant (DEB# 1655635).

The newly described twisted-claw millipede, Nannaria swiftae. Photo by Dr Derek Hennen

Because of their presence in museum collections, scientists long suspected that the twisted-claw millipedes included many new species, but these specimens went undescribed for decades. To fix this, the researchers began a multi-year project to collect new specimens throughout the eastern U.S. They traveled to 17 US states, checking under leaf litter, rocks, and logs to find species so that they could sequence their DNA and scientifically describe them.

Example of typical habitat for twisted-claw millipedes. Photo by Dr Derek Hennen

Looking at over 1800 specimens collected on their field study or taken from university and museum collections, the authors described 17 new species, including Nannaria marianae, which was named after Hennen’s wife. They discovered that the millipedes prefer to live in forested habitats near streams and are often found buried under the soil, exhibiting more cryptic behaviors than relatives.

The newly-described millipedes range between 18 and 38 mm long, have shiny caramel-brown to black bodies with white, red, or orange spots, and have white legs. The males have small, twisted and flattened claws on their anterior legs, which is the basis for their common name.

The lead author of the study, Derek Hennen, is a fan of Taylor Swift. 

“Her music helped me get through the highs and lows of graduate school, so naming a new millipede species after her is my way of saying thanks,” he says.

Research article:

Hennen DA, Means JC, Marek PE (2022) A revision of the wilsoni species group in the millipede genus Nannaria Chamberlin, 1918 (Diplopoda, Polydesmida, Xystodesmidae). ZooKeys 1096: 17-118. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1096.73485

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