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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Dwarfs under dinosaur legs: 99-million-year-old millipede discovered in Burmese amber

A 3D reconstruction of the fossil allowed for the description of an entirely new suborder


The newly described millipede (Burmanopetalum inexpectatum) rendered using 3D X-ray microscopy. Image by Leif Moritz.

Even though we are led to believe that during the Cretaceous the Earth used to be an exclusive home for fearsome giants, including carnivorous velociraptors and arthropods larger than a modern adult human, it turns out that there was still room for harmless minute invertebrates measuring only several millimetres.

Such is the case of a tiny millipede of only 8.2 mm in length, recently found in 99-million-year-old amber in Myanmar. Using the latest research technologies, the scientists concluded that not only were they handling the first fossil millipede of the order (Callipodida) and also the smallest amongst its contemporary relatives, but that its morphology was so unusual that it drastically deviated from its contemporary relatives.

As a result, Prof. Pavel Stoev of the National Museum of Natural History (Bulgaria) together with his colleagues Dr. Thomas Wesener and Leif Moritz of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (Germany) had to revise the current millipede classification and introduce a new suborder. To put it in perspective, there have only been a handful of millipede suborders erected in the last 50 years. The findings are published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

To analyse the species and confirm its novelty, the scientists used 3D X-ray microscopy to ‘slice’ through the Cretaceous specimen and look into tiny details of its anatomy, which would normally not be preserved in fossils. The identification of the millipede also presents the first clue about the age of the order Callipodida, suggesting that this millipede group evolved at least some 100 million years ago. A 3D model of the animal is also available in the research article.

Curiously, the studied arthropod was far from the only one discovered in this particular amber deposit. On the contrary, it was found amongst as many as 529 millipede specimens, yet it was the sole representative of its order. This is why the scientists named it Burmanopetalum inexpectatum, where “inexpectatum” means “unexpected” in Latin, while the generic epithet (Burmanopetalum) refers to the country of discovery (Myanmar, formerly Burma).

Lead author Prof. Pavel Stoev says:

We were so lucky to find this specimen so well preserved in amber! With the next-generation micro-computer tomography (micro-CT) and the associated image rendering and processing software, we are now able to reconstruct the whole animal and observe the tiniest morphological traits which are rarely preserved in fossils. This makes us confident that we have successfully compared its morphology with those of the extant millipedes. It came as a great surprise to us that this animal cannot be placed in the current millipede classification. Even though their general appearance have remained unchanged in the last 100 million years, as our planet underwent dramatic changes several times in this period, some morphological traits in Callipodida lineage have evolved significantly.


The newly described millipede seen in amber. Image by Leif Moritz.

Co-author Dr. Thomas Wesener adds:

“We are grateful to Patrick Müller, who let us study his private collection of animals found in Burmese amber and dated from the Age of Dinosaurs. His is the largest European and the third largest in the world collection of the kind. We had the opportunity to examine over 400 amber stones that contain millipedes. Many of them are now deposited at the Museum Koenig in Bonn, so that scientists from all over the world can study them. Additionally, in our paper, we provide a high-resolution computer-tomography images of the newly described millipede. They are made public through MorphBank, which means anyone can now freely access and re-use our data without even leaving the desk.”

Leading expert in the study of fossil arthropods Dr. Greg Edgecombe (Natural History Museum, London) comments:

“The entire Mesozoic Era – a span of 185 million years – has until now only been sampled for a dozen species of millipedes, but new findings from Burmese amber are rapidly changing the picture. In the past few years, nearly all of the 16 living orders of millipedes have been identified in this 99-million-year-old amber. The beautiful anatomical data presented by Stoev et al. show that Callipodida now join the club.”

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Original source:

Stoev P, Moritz L, Wesener T (2019) Dwarfs under dinosaur legs: a new millipede of the order Callipodida (Diplopoda) from Cretaceous amber of Burma. ZooKeys 841: 79-96. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.841.34991

New species of extremely leggy millipede discovered in a cave in California

Along with many spiders, pseudoscorpions, and flies discovered and catalogued by the cave explorers, a tiny threadlike millipede was found in the unexplored dark marble caves in Sequoia National Park.

The enigmatic millipede was sent to diplopodologists (scientists who specialize in the study of millipedes) Bill Shear and Paul Marek, who immediately recognized its significance as evolutionary cousin of the leggiest animal on the planet, Illacme plenipes. The new species may possess “only” 414 legs, compared to its relative’s 750, yet, it has a similar complement of bizarre anatomical features, including a body armed with 200 poison glands, silk-secreting hairs, and 4 penises. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.image-3

This new millipede, named Illacme tobini after cave biologist Ben Tobin of the National Park Service, is described by its discoverer Jean Krejca, at Zara Environmental LLC, and millipede taxonomists Paul Marek at Virginia Tech and Bill Shear, Hampden-Sydney College.

“I never would have expected that a second species of the leggiest animal on the planet would be discovered in a cave 150 miles away,” says Paul Marek, Assistant Professor in the Entomology Department at Virginia Tech. It’s closest relative lives under giant sandstone boulders outside of San Juan Bautista, California.

In addition to the new millipede’s legginess, it also has bizarre-looking mouthparts of a mysterious function, four legs that are modified into penises, a body covered in long silk-secreting hairs, and paired nozzles on each of its over 100 segments that squirt a defense chemical of an unknown nature.

In conclusion, the authors note that by exploring our world and documenting the biodiversity of this planet we can prevent anonymous extinction, a process in which a species goes extinct before we know of its role in the ecosystem, potential benefit to humanity, or its beauty.

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Original source:

Marek PE, Krejca JK, Shear WA (2016) A new species of Illacme Cook & Loomis, 1928 from Sequoia National Park, California, with a world catalog of the Siphonorhinidae (Diplopoda, Siphonophorida). ZooKeys 626: 1-43. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.626.9681

Dragons out of the dark: 6 new species of Dragon millipedes discovered in Chinese caves

Six new species of Chinese dragon millipedes, including species living exclusively in caves, are described as a result of an international cooperation of research institutes from China, Russia and Germany. These cave species have unusually long legs and antennae, with one of them resembling a stick insect, only with a lot more legs. Others appear ghostly white and semi-transparent. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Underresearched in many tropical countries, numerous millipede species are still awaiting discovery and description in China as well. In the present study, three researchers from South China Agricultural University, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig describe six particularly extraordinary new species of so-called ‘dragon millipedes’ from the two southern Chinese regions of Guangdong and Guangxi Zhuang. Both areas host a large number of spectacular caves, which have only recently been thoroughly surveyed. Four of the species never leave their underground homes.

Dragon millipedes, a genus of millipedes living in southeastern Asia, are characterised with their ‘armour’ of unusual spine-like projections. Furthermore, some of these species produce toxic hydrogen cyanide to ward off predators.

Among the public, the genus gained particular attention when the “Shocking pink dragon millipede” was discovered in Thailand in 2007. This discovery highlighted a large number of unknown millipede species in the Mekong region and worldwide. While the newly described cave dragon millipedes from China lack the “shocking” warning colour of their surface-living relatives, they are no less spectacular.

7825_Millipedes mating couple of Desmoxytes laticollis sp n

One of the new millipedes has received a formal name translating to the “stick insect dragon millipede” because of its extremely long legs and antennae. Therefore, it looks a lot like a stick insect, only with much more legs. Another two of the species have fully lost their colours, which is a common characteristic among exclusively cave-living animals. As a result, they appear ghostly white and even semi-transparent.

Miss Liu Weixin, PhD candidate at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, China, and co-author of the present study, has conducted the research at the Centre of Taxonomy at the Research Museum Koenig (ZFMK), Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany as a part of her PhD, which focuses on Chinese cave millipedes. She worked along with her advisor and lead author Prof. Tian Mingyi, and renowned millipede expert Dr. Sergei Golovatch from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

Over the course of her PhD, Miss Liu Weixin has explored more than 200 Chinese caves, where she has discovered over 20 new millipede species. The dragon millipedes are among her most spectacular discoveries as they exhibit extreme cave adaptations including loss of pigmentation and extremely elongated legs and antennae.

Still on her guest research year in Germany, Liu is currently busy describing additional batch of more than two dozen millipede species, she collected from the Chinese caves, literally bringing to light an unknown world.

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Original source:

Liu WX, Golovatch SI, Tian MY (2016) Six new species of dragon millipedes, genus Desmoxytes Chamberlin, 1923, mostly from caves in China (Diplopoda, Polydesmida, Paradoxosomatidae).ZooKeys 577: 1-24. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.577.7825

Underground gourmet: Selected terrestrial cave invertebrates and their meal preferences

Doubting whether terrestrial cave invertebrates feed on just anything they can find in the harsh food-wise environment underground, Dr. Jaroslav Smrz, fromCharles University, Vinicna, and his international team conducted a research in Slovakian and Romania caves. They tested the hypothesis that these species have rather negligible selection of food. Their microanatomical research into the gut content of several microwhip scorpions, oribatid mites, millipedes, springtails and crustaceans showed, however, that there is an evident meal preference among the species.

The results confirmed that the studied groups can adapt and develop under the pressure of extreme environmental factors. Therefore, the researchers concluded a low level of food competition. The study is available in the Subterranean Biology open-access journal.

The scientists studied the cells and tissues of the selected invertebrates and found out that the gut contents were nearly identical between the representatives of each group. This was the case even when the specimens had been collected from various locations. For instance, all microwhip scorpions proved a preference for cyanobacteria, while the mites favored the bacteria found in bat guano and the millipedes – fungi.

“The limited food offer seems to be used very unambiguously and thoroughly by the invertebrate communities,” the research team explained. “Therefore, the competition for food can be actually regarded as very low,” they concluded.

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Original source:

Smrz J, Kovac L, Mikes J, Sustr V, Lukesova A, Tajovsky K, Novakova A, Reznakova P (2015) Food sources of selected terrestrial cave arthropods. Subterranean Biology 16: 37-46. doi:10.3897/subtbiol.16.8609