New Species of Millipedes Found in Australia

Biologist Dr Robert Mesibov of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, Tasmania, has discovered six new species of colorful, curiously sculptured millipedes.

Left: male and female Notopyrgodesmus kulla. Right: male Nephopyrgodesmus eungella (Robert Mesibov / ZooKeys)

Hundreds of tiny specimens of the widespread tropical family Pyrgodesmidae have been found among bulk samples in two museums, showing that native pyrgodesmids are not only widespread in Australia’s tropical and subtropical forests, but are also abundant and diverse.

“Most pyrgodesmid species are so small they could be easily overlooked,” Dr Mesibov said.

“What’s interesting is how thoroughly overlooked they’ve been. We now know there are dozens of native species of these millipedes in our warm, wet forests, stretching over more than 2000 km on Australia’s east coast,” he explained.

The study, published in the journal ZooKeys, describes three new genera and six new species of millipedes known from the state of Queensland: the genus Asticopyrgodesmus, containing Asticopyrgodesmus lamingtonensis and Asticopyrgodesmus maiala; the genus Nephopyrgodesmus, with Nephopyrgodesmus eungella; and the genus Notopyrgodesmus, with Notopyrgodesmus kulla, Notopyrgodesmus lanosus and Notopyrgodesmus weiri.

“It’s a great example of the value of museum collections,” the biologist said. “Scientists from the Queensland Museum and CSIRO Entomology collected bagfuls of leaf litter in hundreds of places over many years. They extracted bugs in bulk from the fresh litter and took out just the ones they were studying, usually beetles. The remaining bugs are in ‘residues’ stored in the Queensland Museum and the Australian National Insect Collection.”

“It’s not generally appreciated that zoological specialists find most of their new species in museums,” Dr Mesibov said. “Sure, biological expeditions to previously unexplored places turn up exciting new species. But there are plenty of surprises waiting when you go rummaging through the residues on museum shelves. In this case, it was a whole family of animals not known from Australia.”

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Bibliographic information: Mesibov R. 2012. The first native Pyrgodesmidae (Diplopoda, Polydesmida) from Australia. ZooKeys 217: 63; doi: 10.3897/zookeys.217.3809