The newfound species has 486 legs, translucent and about the length of a quarter. Scientific name illacme socal, it now belongs to one of three species in that genus found in California.
What makes this specimen so unique is how many leg pairs it has when compared to other millipedes found in California.
Under a microscope this tiny arthropod looks straight out of a sci-fi movie. It has a round helmet shaped head with two large antennas coming out of it. It also has several body rings from its head to its tail and hundreds of pointy legs to help it crawl through organic matter.
“These legs can potentially help the arthropod dig dipper in the soil to decompose materials that other species would otherwise not be able to” said UC Berkeley doctorate student Cedric Lee who was also part of team who found these millipedes.
Lee said he and his colleagues were actually in search of a slug that day when they found the millipede.
The process of discovering and publishing a new species is a long one, the thread millipede was found in 2018 but underwent various lab test to determine its genus. According to Lee, the average process from discovery to publishing a new species can take up to 20 years, this discovery was able to be done in 5 years, however.
“There’s just not enough people who have the expertise to actually describe new species,” said Lee.
Curator of Entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Brian Brown says new species are nothing rare and what we know, in terms of the number of species on the planet, is far less than what we don’t know.
Brown also added that the process of finding new species is can be tedious due to the lack of available resources. “New species are not the limiting factor, it’s the time and money,” said Brown.
While the LA thread millipede is only a few millimeters in length, tiny species like this play a crucial part in the ecosystem.
“Small insects and animals are incredibly important for the nutrient cycling… it was once said that if all the humans and mammals disappeared, the planet would keep going but if insects disappeared it would come to a screeching stop,” said Brown.