SAN FRANCISCO
11/14/2012 03:47 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2012

750-Leg Millipede Sets World Record, Stuns Researchers With Complexity

Northern California scientists have long been baffled by the rare 750-legged millipede, Illacme Plenipes, which broke the world record for the leggiest animal in 2006. But recent research has revealed even more peculiarities.

Live Science reported on the findings Wednesday, noting both the rarity of the animal and the incredibly complex and confusing anatomy.

The length of this pedal wonder: about one inch, which is even smaller than other millipedes.

"It basically looks like a thread," said lead study author Paul Marek to Live Science. "It has an uninteresting outward appearance, but when we looked at it with [scanning electron microscopy] and compound microscopes, we found a huge, amazingly complex anatomy."

Newly discovered features include a fused mouth and hairs that produce a silk-like product.

But perhaps most peculiar is the creature's reported isolated. The species in only one place in the world: a 1.7-square-mile wooded patch of land near Berkeley. It was first reported in 1926, but was not seen again until the 2006 discovery.

Illacme Plenipes is not the only unique millipede discovery in the San Francisco Bay Area. Earlier this year, researchers discovered millipedes that glow beneath a black light on Alcatraz Island, home of the famous prison. And according to the Bay Citizen, California is also home to bioluminescent millipedes – the only ones in the world.

So what makes Northern California so ripe for rare millipedes?

According to Live Science, it could be related to the region's signature fog, which, due to climate change, is sadly disappearing.

"We don't know much about the biology of these organisms, so for them to go extinct before we understand what role they may play in the ecosystem, or even what they could provide to humanity given enough study, would be a huge shame," Michael Brewer, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Berkeley, told Live Science.

But though Illacme Plenipes has snagged the title for the world's leggiest animal, researchers note that there could be more species, yet to be discovered.

In September, six new species of millipedes were discovered by researchers in Australia.

"Most are so small they could have been overlooked," said biologist Dr Robert Mesibov to Sci-News.com.

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