Meet Geophilus hadesi: The centipede from hell

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Scientists have found a new type of centipede that is the deepest underground dwelling creature of its kind – a species that has been found as deep as 1100 meters below the Earth’s surface and was named Geophilus hadesi after Hades himself.

In research published today in the journal ZooKeys, Dr. Pavel Stoev, a zoologist at the National Museum of Natural History, Sofia, and his colleagues explained that the Hades centipede was also named to pair with an underground-dwelling relative named after Persephone, the queen of the underworld. They are the only geophilomorphs to have adapted to live exclusively in caves, the researchers explained. Most typically only find shelter there sporadically.

“The species was discovered in three deep, hardly accessible vertical caves located in the Velebit Mountains in Central Croatia. It lives at a great depth, in complete darkness and high humidity, often in large spacious places and close to water,” Dr. Stoev told redOrbit via email. It was found by study co-author Ana Komerički and a team from the Croatian Biospeleological Society.

New centipede has unique antennae, poisonous fangs

Dr. Stoev explained that the discovery is unique in that, while there are between 1000 and 1250 extant species that comprise the centipede order Geophilomorpha, this is just the second species in the genus to display what he calls “troglomorphic traits,” meaning its entire life-cycle takes place in caves.

Furthemore, he told redOrbit that among the few troglobites in the order, Geophilus hadesi has “exceptionally elongated antennae, trunk segments, and leg claws, which speaks of a long (most likely in the course of millions of years) evolution in caves. It was recorded at a depth of minus 1100 m, which represents the world’s deepest record of a centipedes as a whole.”

The creature also reportedly has a powerful jaw containing poison glands, and as it uses its claws to capture and tightly hold its prey, the Hades centipede is one of the top predatory creatures currently living in the Velebit caves. Dr. Stoev estimates that, even with this new discovery, we may have only found half the world’s centipede species.

“There are currently approximately 3300 described species of centipedes, but still a large proportion of the existing centipede diversity remains unknown,” he told redOrbit. “It is estimated that the actual number of the species that occur on our planet is between 6000 and 10,000, which means that centipede researchers have still a lot to do.”

Dr. Stoev added that while, like all centipedes, the new species has “poisonous fangs that are used for grasping the prey. Centipedes mostly feed on invertebrates… but the centipede venom can affect also vertebrates,” he said. While there are “a few documented cases of centipede bites” that have been lethal to people, the new species “is likely to be harmless to humans.”

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