The Many-legged Myriapods
Whilst centipedes and millipedes have jaw-like mandibles on their heads for feeding like insects and crustaceans, they are classified in their own Arthropod subphylum: the Myriapoda. In additional to centipedes (Class Chilopoda) and millipedes (Class Diplopoda), the Myriapoda also includes two other little- known microscopic classes: symphalans (Class Symphyla) and pauropodans (Class Pauropoda).
Myriapods are immediately recognizable by their long, segmented bodies, with each segment possessing one or two pairs of jointed legs. The name Myriapoda is derived from Greek murias meaning ten thousand, + Latin pod meaning foot. As the name of this group suggests, these animals have a myriad of legs but whilst nowadays a ‘myriad’ denotes something countless or extremely great in number, a myriad classically referred to a unit of ten thousand – and no myriapod even comes close to possessing this many legs. Actually, some myriapod species have as few as 10 legs in total. The record for the greatest number of legs is held by a species of millipede: Illacme plenipes, which has 750 legs. This extremely rare, species of millipede is restricted to a tiny area in California. Illacme plenipes was thought to be extinct as it had not been seen for over 80 years since its initial discovery, and was only rediscovered in 2008. Illacme plenipes not only has the greatest number of legs of all myriapods, but also in fact holds the world record for the greatest number of legs of any animal! During locomotion, the legs move in waves that travel down the length of the body. It’s amazing that they can travel, often considerably rapidly, without getting all those legs tangled up! Their coordination is quite remarkable.