Imagine that you were off on a spelunking adventure and stumbled upon a pale, ghost-like cave creature with more than 400 legs and four penises, that was probably poisonous, had no eyes and peculiar chomping mouthparts. You'd probably crawl away as fast as possible. That is, unless you happened to be a cave biologist. In which case you'd probably scoop up the bizarre creature in a heap of excitement, preserve it in alcohol, and bring it back to the lab for closer inspection.
Of course, cave biologist Jean K. Krejca didn't know exactly how many legs the creature had when she first collected it, but she could see that the animal was particularly leggy. Millipedes tend to be leggy (after all, in Latin "millipede" means "thousand legs"), but this specimen took things to an extreme. Back in the lab, Krejca counted a whopping 207 pairs of legs. All together that makes this millipede the second leggiest animal species ever found, reports the Washington Post.
Aside from legs, researchers identified an additional four appendages that functioned as gonopods — basically, millipede penises. That seems like an excessive number of penises, but the sexual behavior of this millipede has yet to be observed. For now, researchers are simply left to imagine.
When sliced open, the specimen was dotted with more than 200 pores that each had “unidentified secretion extruded from the opening.” This was probably a defensive poison, but the substance still needs to be properly identified. Its mouthparts, too, were bizarre. Researchers guess that they are specialized for munching on fungus.
Analysis of the new millipede, now named Illacme tobini, found a closely related match: I. plenipes, another oddball arthropod that just happens to be the official record holder for the leggiest creature ever found, perhaps unsurprisingly. First identified in 1926 from a single specimen, I. plenipes has 750 legs. A second specimen of this animal was found in 2006.
llacme tobini is likely similarly elusive. So far the specimen found by Krejca is the only one ever found. The fact that these critters live in dank caves probably lends to their obscurity. But I. tobini and I. plenipes were each found in caves that were 150 miles apart, which means other leggy beasties could be scurrying about over a wide range, awaiting discovery in caves across the region.
Who knows how many legs might be pattering away in those dark abysses?