June 7, 2006

World’s Leggiest Animal Makes Rare Reappearance

LONDON -- An extremely rare species of millipede, and the one that comes closest to having 1,000 legs, has made its first appearance in 80 years.

The Illacme plenipes species had not been seen since it was first spotted in a biodiversity hotspot in California in 1926.

But Paul Marek and Professor Jason Bond of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina recently discovered 12 of the elusive thread-like creatures that measure about 33 mm (1.3 inch) in length.

"It has the most number of legs of any animal on the planet," Marek said in an interview. "It is also an extremely rare species that has not been seen for 80 years."

The scientists found the millipedes during trips to California. Another quirky characteristic of the creatures is that they only live in a moist, wooded area measuring less than 1 sq km (0.6 sq miles) in San Benito County, California.

Marek and Bond, who were funded by the National Science Foundation, found four males, three females and five juveniles. The females had up to 666 legs, slightly fewer than the known record holder, according to the research published in the journal Nature.

The males had between 318 and 402 legs. Scientists do not know why, despite their name which means 1,000 feet, the maximum number of known appendages on a millipede is 750.

Marek said the discovery of the rare creatures highlighted the need to preserve biological diversity.