Deep beneath the surface of the Earth, in a dank and dismal cave, lives Hades, the invertebrate king of hell.
Named for the mythological god of the underworld, Geophilus hadesi is a newly discovered species of centipede that inhabits the deep caves of the Velebit Mountains in Croatia. Unlike most centipedes of the order Geophilomorpha, which only occasionally seek shelter in caves, G. hadesi spends all its life in this dark, underground environment. Tuesday (June 30), the team of scientists who discovered the remarkable critter published the first-ever description of the animal in the journal ZooKeys.
G. hadesi is one of only two known species of centipedes that never leave their cavernous homes. The other underground dweller, Geophilus persephones (named for the queen of the underworld, Persephone), was first discovered in a cave in France in the 1990s. G. hadesi was named with this mythical queen in mind, according to Pavel Stoev, an associate professor of zoology at the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia, Bulgaria, and lead author of the paper detailing the new centipede species. [Creepy Crawlies & Flying Wonders: Incredible Cave Creatures]
Though its home, located nearly two-thirds of a mile (1 kilometer) below the Earth's surface, is a bit dark and gloomy, G. hadesi survives just fine, Stoev told Live Science. It has "exceptionally elongated" antennae and furlike body hair, or setae, covering its appendages, and these two features let the animal detect prey in total darkness, Stoev told Live Science.
Like most centipedes, G. hadesi feeds on living animals — most likely larvae, springtails (tiny, insectlike hexapods), worms, woodlice, spiders and other small prey. Though the centipede's bite is venomous, this "hellish" creature is likely completely harmless to humans, Stoev said. Not that G. hadesi spends much time with people. While scientists from the Croatian Biospeleogical Society have explored the Velebit Mountains where the Hades centipede lives, some of the crevices it inhabits are unreachable. One specimen was collected from a depth of 3,609 feet (1,100 meters), the deepest known habitat for any centipede.