A new species of millipede with hundreds of legs and four penises has been discovered in Sequoia National Park.
The species was found in a cave closed to the public but near Crystal Cave, which is open to visitors.
The discovery was made in 2006 by scientist Jean Krejca, a member of a research team that found 30 new cave-adapted species in several caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks over a period of years.
Previously unknown to science, the millipede has 414 legs, 200 poison glands and four penises. Why the millipede has so many male organs was not explained by the Park Service.
Taxonomists gave it the scientific name Illacme tobini, after National Park Service cave biologist Ben Tobin, who helped coordinate the team’s exploration of the caves.
The fact that we are still finding new species in a place as well-studied as Sequoia National Park just goes to show that there is a lot of undiscovered biodiversity out there.
Christy Brigham, National Park Service
“This is an amazing discovery,” said Christy Brigham, Sequoia National Park’s chief of resource management and science. “The fact that we are still finding new species in a place as well-studied as Sequoia National Park just goes to show that there is a lot of undiscovered biodiversity out there.”
The species is related to one discovered 150 miles to the west in San Benito County, but that millipede is way leggier, at 750 legs, the most of any known millipede. A millipede is an arthropod, an invertebrate category that includes insects, spiders and centipedes.
“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,” Paul Marek, assistant professor in the Entomology Department at Virginia Tech, said in a news release by the paper’s publisher.
Marek co-authored the research paper and was on the research team that explored 30 of approximately 240 caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
“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,” the news release states.
Tobin, who now works at Grand Canyon National Park, said he found out last week that a species had been named after him.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “It was definitely an honor.”
Starting in 2002, the Park Service launched a project to catalog species in the caves and the research team did a lot of exploration in 2006, Tobin said.
“It was an incredibly fun project to be involved in,” he said.