Earth’s Deepest-Dwelling Centipede Discovered in Croatia

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

A tiny centipede has just set an underground world record. It’s also been given a name with hellish connotations.

Recently discovered by an international team of researchers, the new species was found in a trio of central Croatian caves. One specimen is especially remarkable, having appeared some 3,600 feet beneath the Earth’s surface. This is the deepest a live centipede has ever been found.

In homage to Hades, the scientists dubbed their creature Geophilus hadesi. In doing so, they winked at its close relative, Geophilus persephones. A predator with similar habits, G. persephones was discovered some 16 years earlier and named after Persephone, the abducted queen of the god of the underworld. But while Hades’ wife regularly went above ground, these two never leave their cavernous habitat.

Members of the Geophilus genus belong to a large centipede subgroup called the geophilomorphs, which are found on every continent but Antarctica. Zoologists have identified more than a thousand species, and all of them are well adapted for subterranean living. (For one thing, they're all sightless.) However, only G. hadesi and G. persephones dwell exclusively in caves throughout their entire lives. 

Along with virtually all centipedes, G. hadesi is a carnivore. Using venomous glands, the inch-long assassin likely subdues and eats springtails (tiny, insect-like hexapods), worms, woodlice, spiders and other small prey, according to LiveScience. Despite its extreme niche, special traits allow this particular centipede to survive and thrive. For instance, a pair of unusually long antennae ease the task of navigating over lightless terrain. Its body segments and leg claws have been similarly extended.

Lead author Pavel Stoev sees the discovery as a humbling reminder. “This finding,” he says, “comes to prove once again how little we know about the life in caves, where even in the best prospected areas, one can still find incredible animals."