Nav: Home

Entomologist discovers millipede that comes in more color combinations than any other

January 26, 2018

The new millipede that Paul Marek discovered is as pretty as it is dangerous.

The thumb-sized millipede that crawls around the forest floor of Southwest Virginia's Cumberland Mountains has more color combinations than any other millipede discovered.

Apheloria polychroma, as the millipede is known, also has an enviable trait in the animal world -- it's covered in cyanide, ensuring any bird that snacks on the colorful but lethal invertebrate won't do it a second time. Lots of other millipedes that don't have as much toxic defense mimic Apheloria polychroma's coloring in hopes of avoiding becoming another link in the food chain.

This is the 10th species that Marek, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences'Department of Entomology, has discovered and named in recent years. Apheloria polychroma was named for its rainbow of colors and was described by Marek; Jackson Means, a graduate student from Keswick, Virginia; and Derek Hennen, a graduate student from Little Hocking, Ohio. Marek runs the only millipede lab in the United States.

The team's findings were recently published in the journal Zootaxa.

While Marek's work is focused on small things, his research helps tell the larger story of the quickly changing natural world. By documenting the many living organisms of the planet, he is helping avoid anonymous extinction -- a process in which a species goes extinct before its existence, role in the ecosystem, or potential benefit to humanity is known.

"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," said Marek. "This region is ripe with biodiversity and is an excellent living laboratory to do this work."

The millipedes that copy Apheloria polychroma use what is called Mullerian mimicry, where different species converge on a shared aposematic (warning signal) to defend themselves against a common predator. The more frequently predators encounter what appears to be the same brightly colored unpalatable millipede and memorize its warning colors, the better the collective advertisement of their noxiousness.

In addition to the millipede's colorful exoskeleton, it also serves an important role in the ecosystem as a decomposer by breaking down decaying leaves, wood, and other vegetation to unlock and recycle their nutrients for future generations of forest life.

In recent years, Marek also has had a tarantula named for him, explored the origins of bioluminescence, and discovered the leggiest creature on Earth.
-end-


Virginia Tech

Related Ecosystem Articles:

Dune ecosystem modelling
Using the acacia as an example, researchers show that the location has an effect on interaction with other species.
Deaths of migrating wildebeests key to Serengeti's vibrant ecosystem
Wildebeest carcasses, casualties of the world's largest overland animal migration, pile up annually on the banks of the Mara River in Africa and play a crucial role in vibrant ecosystem of the Serengeti plains, a new Yale-led study has found.
What could be the importance of marine and coastal cultural ecosystem services
Cultural ecosystem services reflect physical and cognitive interactions between humans and nature, and are increasingly recognised for providing experiences, capabilities and many other benefits to human societies.
Using Google to map our ecosystem
Researchers in the Singapore-ETH Centre's Future Cities Laboratory developed a method to quantify ecosystem services of street trees.
Pioneering partnership model in the McMaster innovation ecosystem
McMaster University's innovative experimental co-location between an academic research center and a rapidly growing startup company has begun to yield successes.
Pressures from grazers hastens ecosystem collapse from drought
Ecosystem collapse from extreme drought can be significantly hastened by pressures placed on drought-weakened vegetation by grazers and fungal pathogens, a new Duke-led study finds.
Using ecosystem services in municipality planning: Lessons from Sweden
In the context of increasing land use and climate change, municipality planning faces a growing challenge finding a sustainable balance between different actions to accommodate citizen's demands of ecosystem services (ES) and development projects.
Global change, ecosystem services and human well being: An assessment for Europe
Highly dependent on the different aspects of global change, variations in ecosystem services supply can also have direct impacts on human well being.
Reduced ecosystem functions in oil palm plantations
Large areas of tropical lowland forests have been replaced by oil palm plantations, with major impact on environment and people.
One Ecosystem Journal: Innovation in ecology and sustainability research publishing
Focused on the fields of ecology and sustainability, One Ecosystem is an innovative open access scholarly journal that goes beyond the conventional research article publication.

Related Ecosystem Reading:

The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems
by Rachel Ignotofsky (Author)

The Farm as Ecosystem
by Jerry Brunetti (Author)

Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology
by F Stuart Chapin III (Author), Pamela A. Matson (Author), Peter Vitousek (Author), M.C. Chapin (Illustrator)

Ecosystem (Ecosystem Trilogy Book 1)
by Mostly Wind Books

AeroDynamic: Inside the High-Stakes Global Jetliner Ecosystem (Library of Flight)
by Kevin Michaels (Author)

Properties of Ecosystems (God's Design)
by Debbie & Richard Lawrence (Author), Answers in Genesis (Editor), Answers in Genesis (Editor)

Platform Ecosystems: Aligning Architecture, Governance, and Strategy
by Morgan Kaufmann

Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem
by Patricia Newman (Author)

The Innovation Ecosystem: How to Turbocharge Innovation in Your Business
by Rethink Press

Fundamentals of Ecosystem Science
by Kathleen C. Weathers (Editor), David L. Strayer (Editor), Gene E. Likens (Editor)

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#514 Arctic Energy (Rebroadcast)
This week we're looking at how alternative energy works in the arctic. We speak to Louie Azzolini and Linda Todd from the Arctic Energy Alliance, a non-profit helping communities reduce their energy usage and transition to more affordable and sustainable forms of energy. And the lessons they're learning along the way can help those of us further south.