Image: Illacme plenipes
Acientists have found Illacme plenipes, a millipede that is the world's leggiest creature, in a tiny patch of San Benito County, Calif. and was originally discovered in 1926.
updated 6/7/2006 2:32:34 PM ET 2006-06-07T18:32:34

She is all legs and after more than a quarter of a centrury, she is showing not one but 666 of her rarely seen limbs.

Scientists have rediscovered Illacme plenipes, a millipede that is the world's leggiest creature, in a tiny patch of San Benito County, Calif. The millipede was discovered in 1926.

The word millipede literally means a thousand feet, although no millipede has so many. The I. plenipes comes closest with females possessing as many as 750 legs.

Over the course of three trips to the California Floristic Province, an area in California with Mediterranean-like climate, scientists found four male specimens and three females, which they write about in the June 8 issue of the journal Nature.

The females, as it turned out, were both significantly longer and had more legs. The females were about 1.3 inches with as many as 666 legs, while the males averaged 0.6 inches in length and walked on no more than 402 legs.

The males and females probably start out the same size, explained Paul Marek of East Carolina University and co-author of the report. Females grow larger and develop more body segments, "They are also wider," he said.

It isn't known if the females have accelerated growth or just keep growing once the males have stopped.

"Females may just continue to add segments," Marek told LiveScience. "It remains a mystery."

Legs up
On a track to find “the acme of plentiful feet,” Marek and colleagues used topographical maps, original descriptions of where this species had been cited, and knowledge of potential suitable habitats for the arthropods.

They ended up spotting some in a hotspot of biodiversity that covers less than half a square mile.

Some 34 biodiversity hotspots have been identified. They cover just 2.3 percent of the land's surface but shelter more than 50 percent of plant species and 42 percent of all terrestrial vertebrate species.

"Closely-related millipedes, in the family Siphonorhinidae, occur in other biodiversity hotspots like southeastern Africa, Indo-Burma, Sumatra, Malaysia, and Java," Marek said.

"Its occurrence in a biodiversity hotspot highlights the status biodiversity hotspots have as unique repositories of the world’s biological diversity," he said. "In order to manage them, we need to know what comprises them."

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