A Millipede That (Almost) Lives Up To The Name

No millipede actually has 1000 feet—but the species Illacme plenipes comes closest, with up to 750. Entomologist Paul Marek, who rediscovered the rare species a few years ago in California's coastal mountains, calls counting legs and measuring millipedes a "guilty pleasure."

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Finally, something that might really bug you.

CHRISTOPHER INTAGLIATA, BYLINE: It's known as the leggiest animal on earth.

DR. PAUL MAREK: This critter's name is Illacme plenipes. They have basically 750 legs that they could use to cling on to the surface of the rock.

INTAGLIATA: That's Paul Marek, the entomologist who rediscovered this rare millipede. It's only about an inch long and cream-colored, almost see-through. While no millipede actually has a thousand feet, this guy comes closest. Marek isn't guessing about that, either.

MAREK: Counting legs and measuring millipedes, it's kind of weird, but it's kind of a guilty pleasure of mine.

(LAUGHTER)

INTAGLIATA: But why so many legs? Because they're rock climbers and use legs to grip the sandstone boulders where they live.

MAREK: Imagine one of these creatures, you know, there's a human-sized millipede climbing up El Capitan in Yosemite.

INTAGLIATA: These millipedes are really rare. They have only been found in two spots on the planet. Both are in the mountains east of Monterey, California.

MAREK: And we're not letting folks know where that area is because we're worried about the safety of the ecosystem and the perseverance of the species.

INTAGLIATA: By keeping the millipede's stomping grounds a secret, Marek hopes to give them a leg up on extinction. For SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Christopher Intagliata.

FLATOW: And that's about all the time we have today. Before we go, the Leonid meteor shower is peak tomorrow morning, Saturday morning before dawn. It should be a good show, 20 shooting stars per hour forecast. Hope the weather cooperates with you. Get up - tonight, stay up late. Get up early tomorrow morning to see the Leonid.

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