Newly Discovered Millipede Comes in More Color Combinations Than Any Other

Posted on January 27, 2018

Apheloria polychroma

A new thumb-sized millipede species was recently discovered on the forest floor of Southwest Virginia's Cumberland Mountains. It has more color combinations than any other millipede ever discovered. It is also covered in cyanide.

The toxic millipede's coloring is copied by other millipede species that are not toxic or not as toxic. This defense strategy is known as Mullerian mimicry. The millipede plays a crucial decomposer role in the ecosystem. The researchers say the millipedes break down "decaying leaves, wood, and other vegetation to unlock and recycle their nutrients for future generations of forest life."

The millipede has been has been named Apheloria polychroma. It is the tenth millipede species discovered and described by Paul Marek, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Department of Entomology. The research paper on the new species was published in the journal Zootaxa.

Marek says in the announcement, "It is imperative to describe and catalog these species so that we know what role they play in the ecosystem -- and what impact we are having on them. This region is ripe with biodiversity and is an excellent living laboratory to do this work."