by Piter Kehoma Boll
When it comes to nature, people are always curious about the superlatives, the extremes. What’s the largest, the smallest, the oldest, the most venomous… But there’s another extreme that people usually don’t think about: the leggiest!
So today we’ll talk about it. The leggiest animal, i.e., the animal with the largest number of legs.
Its scientific name is Illacme plenipes and it lacks a common name, so I decided to call the “leggiest millepede”, since that’s what it is. The name “millipede” means “a thousand feet”, but none of them actually reach that number. I. plenipes, however, comes pretty close, having as much as 750 legs! It is so long and so leggy that watching it move is almost a torture.
This species was described in 1928 from a small locality in California and is so rare that it wasn’t found again for almost 80 years, being rediscovered only in 2005 in an area close to the original one. Despite having hundreds of legs, it is a very small species, being less than 4cm long. Most examined species have less than 700 legs because of the unusual development found in most or all millipedes.
Like all arthropods, millepedes shed their exoskeleton from time to time to allow them to grow. In millipedes, every time they shed, they increase the number of body segments and legs. It continues throughout their lives, even after becoming sexually mature. Therefore, we could even find some specimens having more than the record of 750 legs!
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Marek, P. E.; Bond, J. E. 2006. Rediscovery of the world’s leggiest animal. Nature, 441: 707. DOI: 10.1038/441707a
Marek, P. E.; Shear, W. A.; Bond, J. E. 2012. A redescription of the leggiest animal, the millipede Illacme plenipes, with notes on its natural history and biogeography. Zookeys, 241: 77-112. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.241.3831
Wikipedia. Illacme. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illacme>. Access on January 26, 2016.
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