"We don't know much about the biology of these organisms, so for them to go extinct before we understand what role they may play in the ecosystem, or even what they could provide to humanity given enough study, would be a huge shame," Brewer said.
Millipedes are second to earthworms in their ability to break down dead plant matter, giving bacteria and fungi a chance to consume those organic materials.
Scientists have crowned the species as the leggiest in the animal kingdom, beating out a related species in Puerto Rico with 742 legs. Because much of the tropics remain understudied, Illacme plenipes may hold its title only among millipedes. "The leggiest animal could be in the tropics; we just skimmed the surface of biodiversity there," Marek said.
"The next step would be to hopefully spur some interest in preserving not only this species, but the habitat in which the species lives."
However, the creature will remain elusive for researchers. "We haven’t been able to culture these in the laboratory," Marek said. "It seems they need some sort of food that they're not getting in the laboratory."
The leggy creature is described online today (Nov. 14) in the journal ZooKeys.
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