Los Angeles Thread Millipede

Millipedes aren’t insects, but arthropod invertebrates more closely related to lobsters and crayfish.

A team of researchers in Los Angeles has discovered a new species of millipede. The new species, known as the Los Angeles Thread Millipede or the more formal illacme socal, was found beneath the soil surface in two parks located in the city and in Orange County. Measuring just 0.5mm wide and 2.5cm long, the burrowing creature is also pale and blind and reportedly has the ability to produce a silk-like sticky substance similar to spider silk.

The team involved in the discovery included scientists from Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, and the University of California, Berkeley. The findings were published in the journal ZooKeys[1]. Paul Marek, associate professor in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, was the lead author of the study that described the new millipede.

We hope that this discovery will encourage conservation efforts to protect these unique creatures and their habitats. The discovery of Illacme socal highlights the importance of research into subterranean fauna.

Paul Marek

The animal boasts 486 legs and a toothy, Predator-style head. It has the greenish translucence of a glow-in-the-dark toy in daylight and weaves through the soil as elegantly as an embroiderer’s needle. But step away from the microscope and the Los Angeles thread millipede (Illacme socal) becomes a lot less intimidating.

With the width of a thin mechanical pencil lead and the length of a sewing pin. it was easy to miss. With the publication in late June 2023 of a paper formally introducing the critter, the Los Angeles thread millipede joins roughly 12,000 other named millipede species worldwide.

There are an estimated 4 million to 6 million arthropod species, including millipedes, living on Earth, but only about 1 million have been described to date. While specimens of l. socal were only found in these particular areas, Marek believes species likely lived in other parts of the LA-metro area before development led to habitat loss. The limited habitat makes the conservation of the species more important.

Studying and cataloging millipedes and other species that live in and feed the ground below us can help us to make informed decisions to conserve biodiversity on this planet and also help preserve the environment that humans also depend on.

Paul Marek

The agency said Marek also found another “possible specimen, a juvenile millipede,” in Eaton Canyon Natural Area just north of Pasadena. The biggest differences between the creatures are the number of legs they boast, as well as how many rings they have, researchers said. The females tend to be larger than the males and “have more rings and legs.”

The largest millipede tracked had 125 rings and 486 legs, according to researchers, while the smallest had 51 rings and 190 legs. Habitat photographs were captured with an iPhone 7 camera and millipede photographs and videos were recorded with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV digital SLR camera and a 65 mm Canon MPE lens.

To record burrowing behavior, a female millipede (MPE04624) and soil from its microhabitat were placed between two pieces of plate glass and mounted vertically in front of a Canon 5D camera on a tripod and illuminated with a GoBe 700-wide LED light (Light & Motion Inc., California).

The millipede was spotted for the first time in April 2018 at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, near Lake Forest, by naturalists Cedric Lee and James Bailey. The two immediately realized they were looking at something unique and posted their find to iNaturalist[2], the citizen science app.

Millipedes break down dying and decaying material from plants, fungi and other sources and provide key nutrients to the soil that help support new life.

 National Science Foundation

Though the “grossly understudied” species “represent the next frontier of discovery,” it is “threatened by encroaching human settlement and habitat loss” and conserving the species is of “high importance,” according to researchers.

  1. ZooKeys is a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal that focuses on zoological taxonomy and biodiversity research. It covers a wide range of topics related to the animal kingdom, including the description of new species, taxonomic revisions, phylogenetic studies, and biogeographic analyses. The journal aims to promote the advancement of zoological knowledge and facilitate collaboration among researchers worldwide. Established in 2008, ZooKeys has rapidly gained recognition as a prominent platform for publishing zoological research. It employs a thorough peer-review process to ensure the quality and accuracy of its published articles. ZooKeys’ open-access policy allows researchers, students, and the general public to access its content freely, thereby contributing to the dissemination of scientific knowledge. With its commitment to transparent and rigorous science, ZooKeys continues to play a crucial role in the understanding and conservation of global biodiversity. [Back]
  2. iNaturalist is an innovative citizen science platform and mobile app that enables users to document and share observations of plants and animals in their natural habitats. Founded in 2008, the platform has become one of the largest and most popular tools for crowdsourcing biodiversity data, engaging a global community of nature enthusiasts, researchers, and experts. Users take photographs of various organisms, upload them to iNaturalist, and collaborate with the community to identify species. This collective effort contributes to a valuable global database of species occurrences, aiding in biodiversity research, conservation efforts, and public education. With its user-friendly interface and active community, iNaturalist continues to empower individuals to explore and contribute to our understanding of the natural world. [Back]

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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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