Millipede’s World Record In Doubt? Could The 750-Leg Creature Lose Title?

By Melissa Siegel on November 14, 2012 4:52 PM EST

Millipede
An example of a millipede. Scientists have been studying a different millipede with a record 750 legs. (Photo: Flickr / Emilian Robert Vicol)

A millipede's world record for leggiest creature could be in doubt.

According to Live Science, a rare white millipede named Illacme plenipes, has the record with 750 legs on its 0.4-1.2-inch frame.

"It basically looks like a thread," said author Paul Marek, who was part of a study on the record-setting millipede.. "It has an uninteresting outward appearance, but when we looked at it with SEM [scanning electron microscopy] and compound microscopes, we found a huge, amazingly complex anatomy."

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The millipede, which is found only in Northern California, beat out a similar creature in Puerto Rice that has 742 legs. However, because many creatures in the tropics have not been carefully studied, it's possible the Illacme plenipes only holds the record among other millipedes.

The millipede was first re-discovered back in 2006, 80 years after its only previous sighting. Since then, Marek and a group of scientists have done more research and discovered other bizarre features of the creature. These include a fused mouth with no apparently function and hairs that create a product similar to silk.

Seventeen different specimens of the creature were found for the study, all in a grassy area around 1.7 square miles. The hunt for the record-setting millipede ended in 2007 for fear of wiping out the remaining species.

The study also found that the record-setting millipede's closest relative lives in South Africa. Researchers theorize that the two species lived together on Pangaea before the supercontinent broke apart.

There is fear that climate change could cause this millipede to become extinct. A prior study found that the average number of hours of fog along the West Coast during the summer dropped to 42 percent in 2010, compared to 56 percent in 1901. This fog is necessary to keep the millipede's environment moist.

"The next step would be to hopefully spur some interest in preserving not only this species, but the habitat in which the species lives," Marek said.

This is particularly important considering scientists have been unable to create the millipede in labs.

"We haven't been able to culture these in the laboratory," Marek said. "It seems they need some sort of food that they're not getting in the laboratory.""

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