A research team led by Virginia Tech has recently identified and described a new species of millipede from the Appalachian Mountains in the United States. The researchers named this species Nannaria swiftae, after famous musician Taylor Swift – an artist deeply admired by study lead author and entomologist Derek Hennen.
“Her music helped me get through the highs and lows of graduate school, so naming a new millipede species after her is my way of saying thanks,” explained Hennen.
Scientists have long suspected that twisted-claw millipedes include many more species than formally described until now. In order to expand our understanding of these creatures’ biodiversity, Hennen and his colleagues embarked on a multi-year project to collect new millipede specimens throughout the eastern United States. They travelled through 17 states, searching new millipedes under rocks, logs, or leaf litter.
By investigating over 1,800 specimens collected on their field trips or found in university and museum collections, the researchers have managed to describe 17 new species, including Nannaria marianae, which was named after Hennen’s wife. Most of these species preferred to live in forested habitats near streams, and were often found buried under the soil, thus exhibiting more cryptic behavior than many of their relatives.
Nannaria swiftae is between 18 and 38 millimeters long, has a shiny, caramel-brown to black body with white, red, or orange spots, and white legs. The males have small, twisted and flattened claws on their anterior legs (hence the common name “twisted-claw millipedes”). Together with the other species of millipedes discovered in the Appalachian Mountains, N.swiftae have a valuable role as decomposers. They feed on decaying leaves and other plant matter, and, by breaking down leaf litter, they release precious nutrients into the ecosystem.
According to the scientists, even more species of millipedes are expected to be discovered in the southern Appalachian Mountains in further expeditions.
A detailed description of this new species can be found in the open-source journal ZooKeys.
Image Credit: Dr Derek Hennen