King of the Cave: New centipede on top of the food chain in the sulphurous-soaked Movile

A new species of endemic, troglobiont centipede was discovered by an international team of scientists in the Romanian cave Movile: a unique underground ecosystem, isolated several millions years ago during the Neogene, whose animal life only exists because of the chemosynthetic bacteria. As the largest Movile’s inhabitant, the new species can easily be crowned as the ‘king’ of this ‘hellish’ ecosystem. Aptly named Cryptops speleorex, the cave-dweller is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

A photo of the newly discovered species (Cryptops speleorex), the largest inhabitant of the Movile cave (Romania) known to date
Photo by Mihai Baciu

Deemed to never see the light of the day, a new species of endemic, troglobiont centipede was discovered by an international team of scientists in the Romanian cave Movile: a unique underground ecosystem, where the oxygen in the air might be half of the amount of what we’re used to, yet the sulphurous abounds; and where the animal life only exists because of chemosynthetic bacteria feeding on carbon dioxide and methane.

This hellish ecosystem–where breathing alone could be lethal for most of us–seems to have finally crowned its king. At a size of between 46 and 52 mm in length, the centipede Cryptops speleorex is the largest of the cave’s inhabitants known to date. The new species is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

Already isolated from the outside world several millions years ago during the Neogene, the Movile cave has been drawing the attention of scientists ever since its unexpected discovery in 1986 by Romanian workers, searching for locations suitable for building a power plant in the southeastern parts of the country.

Surprisingly enough, despite its harsh living conditions, the Movile ecosystem was soon found to harbor a diverse and unique fauna, characterised by exceptional species endemism and specific trophic links. So far, the cave has been known to give home to the troglobiont water scorpion, liocranid and nesticid spiders, cave leeches and certainly many more yet to be discovered.

In fact, it was long thought that this unique underground ecosystem was also inhabited by surface-dwelling species widespread in Europe. Convinced that this scenario is highly unlikely, scientists Dr Varpu Vahtera (University of Turku, Finland), Prof Pavel Stoev (National Museum of Natural History, Bulgaria) and Dr Nesrine Akkari (Museum of Natural History Vienna, Austria) decided to examine a curious centipede, collected by speleologists Serban Sarbu and Alexandra Maria Hillebrand, during their recent expedition to Movile.

“Our results confirmed our doubts and revealed that the Movile centipede is morphologically and genetically different, suggesting that it has been evolving from its closest surface-dwelling relative over the course of millions of years into an entirely new taxon that is better adapted to life in the never-ending darkness,” explain the researchers.

“The centipede we described is a venomous predator, by far the largest of the previously described animals from this cave. Thinking of its top rank in this subterranean system, we decided to name the species Cryptops speleorex, which can be translated to the “King of the cave”, they add.

The scientists exploring the Movile cave (Romania)
Photo by Mihai Baciu

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Original Source:

Vahtera V, Stoev P, Akkari N (2020) Five million years in the darkness: A new troglomorphic species of Cryptops Leach, 1814 (Chilopoda, Scolopendromorpha) from Movile Cave, Romania. ZooKeys 1004: 1-26. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1004.58537

Latest results of myriapod research from the 18th International Congress of Myriapodology

Last year, the 18th International Congress of Myriapodology brought together 92 of the world’s top experts on the curious, yet still largely unknown multi-legged centipedes, millipedes, pauropods, symphylans (collectively referred to as myriapods) and velvet worms (onychophorans).

Held between 25th and 31st August 2019 at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest and co-organised by the Hungarian Biological Society, the biennial event saw the announcement of the latest findings related to the diversity, distribution and biology of these creatures. Now, the public gets the chance to learn about a good part of the research presented there on the pages of the open-access scholarly journal ZooKeys.


Find all articles published in ZooKeys here
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The special issue in ZooKeys, “Proceedings of the 18th International Congress of Myriapodology (25-31 August 2019, Budapest, Hungary)“, features a total of 11 research articles reporting on species new to science, updates on the distribution and conservation of already known myriapods and discoveries about the biology, ecology and evolution of individual species. Together, the publications reveal new insights into the myriapod life on four continents: Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Amongst the published research outputs worth mentioning is the comparison between regional and global Red Listings of Threatened Species that worryingly identifies a missing overlap between the myriapod species included in the global IUCN Red List and the regional ones. This first-of-its-kind overview of the current conservation statuses of myriapods from around the world highlights the lack of dedicated funding for the conservation of hundreds of threatened myriapods. As a result, the scientists behind the study urge for the establishment of a Myriapoda Specialist Group in the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN.

Meanwhile, to give us a hint about how many millipedes are out there unbeknownst to the world and any conservation authorities, at the congress, three research teams revealed a total of seven new to science species: three giant pill-millipedes from Vietnam, another three from the biodiversity hotspot Madagascar and a spirostreptid millipede inhabiting Sao Tome and Principe.

Amongst the rest of the papers is the curious discovery of two Tasmanian species of flat-backed millipedes of the genus Tasmaniosoma whose neighbouring populations have seemingly come to their own terms to keep distance between each other, save for a little stretch of land, for no obvious reason. Not a single site where both species occur together was found by Dr Bob Mesibov, the millipede expert behind the study. How is the parapatric boundary maintained? How, when and where did the parapatry originate? These are the big mysteries that the already retired Australian scientist leaves for his successors to resolve.

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All articles published in the “Proceedings of the 18th International Congress of Myriapodology (25-31 August 2019, Budapest, Hungary” special issue, edited by Dr. Zoltan Korsos (now University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest) and Dr. Laszlo Danyi (Hungarian Natural History Museum), are publicly available in the online, open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal ZooKeys.

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Follow ZooKeys journal on Twitter and Facebook. Use #Myriapoda2019 to learn more about the studies published in the special issue.

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

Scientists discover over 450 fossilised millipedes in 100-million-year-old amber

Since the success of the Jurassic Park film series, it is widely known that insects from the Age of the Dinosaurs can be found exceptionally well preserved in amber, which is in fact fossilised tree resin.

Especially diverse is the animal fauna preserved in Cretaceous amber from Myanmar (Burma). Over the last few years, the almost 100-million-year-old amber has revealed some spectacular discoveries, including dinosaur feathers, a complete dinosaur tail, unknown groups of spiders and several long extinct groups of insects.

However, as few as three millipede species, preserved in Burmese amber, had been found prior to the study of Thomas Wesener and his PhD student Leif Moritz at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig – Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity (ZFMK). Their research was recently published in the open-access journal Check List.

One of the newly discovered fossilised millipedes. Photo by Dr Thomas Wesener.

Having identified over 450 millipedes preserved in the Burmese amber, the scientists confirmed species representing as many as 13 out of the 16 main orders walking the Earth today. The oldest known fossils for half of these orders were found within the studied amber.

The researchers conducted their analysis with the help of micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). This scanning technology uses omni-directional X-rays to create a 3D image of the specimen, which can then be virtually removed from the amber and digitally examined.

The studied amber is mostly borrowed from private collections, including the largest European one, held by Patrick Müller from Käshofen. There are thought to be many additional, scientifically important specimens, perhaps even thousands of them, currently inaccessible in private collections in China.

Over the next few years, the newly discovered specimens will be carefully described and compared to extant species in order to identify what morphological changes have occurred in the last 100 million years and pinpoint the speciation events in the millipede Tree of Life. As a result, science will be finally looking at solving long-standing mysteries, such as whether the local millipede diversity in the southern Alps of Italy or on the island of Madagascar is the result of evolutionary processes which have taken place one, ten or more than 100-million years ago.

According to the scientists, most of the Cretaceous millipedes found in the amber do not differ significantly from the species found in Southeast Asia nowadays, which is an indication of the old age of the extant millipede lineages.

On the other hand, the diversity of the different orders seems to have changed drastically. For example, during the Age of the Dinosaurs, the group Colobognatha – millipedes characterised by their unusual elongated heads which have evolved to suck in liquid food – used to be very common. In contrast, with over 12,000 millipede species living today, there are only 500 colobognaths.

Another curious finding was the discovery of freshly hatched, eight-legged juveniles, which indicated that the animals lived and reproduced in the resin-producing trees.

“Even before the arachnids and insects, and far ahead of the first vertebrates, the leaf litter-eating millipedes were the first animals to leave their mark on land more than 400-million-years ago,” explain the scientists. “These early millipedes differed quite strongly from the ones living today – they would often be much larger and many had very large eyes.”

The larger species in the genus Arthropleura, for example, would grow up to 2 m (6.5 ft) long and 50-80 cm (2-3 ft) wide – the largest arthropods to have ever crawled on Earth. Why these giants became extinct and those other orders survived remains unknown, partly because only a handful of usually badly preserved fossils from the whole Mesozoic era (252-66-million years ago) has been retrieved. Similarly, although it had long been suspected that the 16 modern millipede orders must be very old, a fossil record to support this assumption was missing.

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Original source:

Wesener T, Moritz L (2018) Checklist of the Myriapoda in Cretaceous Burmese amber and a correction of the Myriapoda identified by Zhang (2017). Check List 14(6): 1131-1140. https://doi.org/10.15560/14.6.1131

The first cave-dwelling centipede from southern China

Chinese scientists recorded the first cave-dwelling centipede known so far from southern China. To the amazement of the team, the specimens collected during a survey in the Gaofeng village, Guizhou Province, did not only represent a species that had been successfully hiding away from biologists in the subterranean darkness, but it also turned out to be the very first amongst the order of stone centipedes to be discovered underground in the country.

Found by the team of Qing Li, Xuan Guo and Dr Hui-ming Chen of the Guizhou Institute of Biology, and Su-jian Pei and Dr Hui-qin Ma of Hengshui University, the new cavedweller is described under the name of Australobius tracheoperspicuus in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

The new centipede is quite tiny, measuring less than 20 mm in total body length. It is also characterised with pale yellow-brownish colour and antennae comprised of 26 segments each. Similar to other cave-dwelling organisms which have evolved to survive away from sunlight, it has no eyes.

In their paper, the authors point out that Chinese centipedes and millipedes remain poorly known, where the statement holds particularly true for the fauna of stone centipedes: the members of the order Lithobiomorpha. As of today, there are only 80 species and subspecies of lithobiomorphs known from the country. However, none of them lives underground.

In addition, the study provides an identification key for all six species of the genus Australobius recorded in China.

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Original source:

Li Q, Pei S-j, Guo X, Ma H-q, Chen H-m (2018) Australobius tracheoperspicuus sp. n., the first subterranean species of centipede from southern China (Lithobiomorpha, Lithobiidae). ZooKeys 795: 83-91. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.795.28036

Two new species of stone centipedes found hiding in larch forests in China

Scientists described two species of previously unknown stone centipedes from China. Now housed at the Hengshui University, China, where all members of the team work, the studied specimens were all collected in the leaf litter or under rocks in larch forests.

Having conducted their research across China, researchers Dr Sujian Pei, Yanmin Lu, Haipeng Liu, Dr Xiaojie Hou and Dr Huiqin Ma announced the two new species – Lithobius (Ezembius) tetraspinus and Hessebius luculentus – in two articles published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Stone centipedes are the species which belong to the order Lithobiomorpha. These centipedes are anamorphic, meaning that they grow additional pair of legs as they moult and develop additional body segments. By the time they are fully grown, these count 15 in total. Unlike earlier predecessors, stone centipedes do not have the compound eyes we know from insects. Instead, stone centipedes see through simple eyes, sometimes a group of simple eyes, or, if living exclusively underground, they might have no eyes at all.19980 New centipede China L. tetraspinus

One of the newly discovered species, Lithobius (Ezembius) tetraspinus, is recorded from Hami City, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, northwestern China. The studied specimens were collected from moderately moist larch forest habitats at altitude of 950 to 1000. There, the small predominantly brown centipedes, measuring no more than about 13 mm in body length, were hiding under rodeside stones and leaf litter.

The second previously unknown centipede, Hessebius luculentus, discovered in Shandan County, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, is slightly larger – reaching up to 20 mm. Its colours are a mix of yellow and brown with the odd grey or red hue. While it has the same preference for relatively moist habitats, this species lives at greater altitude. It has been reported from forest floor at about 1400 m above sea level.

In both papers, the authors point out that while the myriapod fauna of China remains generally poorly known, even less attention has been given to the order of stone centipedes.

The research articles are included in the special issue “Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Myriapodology, Krabi, Thailand”. The congress, organised by Prof. Somsak Panha, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, was held in July 2017.

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Original source:

Pei S, Lu Y, Liu H, Hou X, Ma H (2018) Lithobius (Ezembius) tetraspinus, a new species of centipede from northwest China (Lithobiomorpha, Lithobiidae). In: Stoev P, Edgecombe GD (Eds) Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Myriapodology, Krabi, Thailand. ZooKeys 741: 203-217. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.741.19980

Ma H, Lu Y, Liu H, Hou X, Pei S (2018) Hessebius luculentus, a new species of the genus Hessebius Verhoeff, 1941 from China (Lithobiomorpha, Lithobiidae). In: Stoev P, Edgecombe GD (Eds) Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Myriapodology, Krabi, Thailand. ZooKeys 741: 193-202. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.741.20061

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