World's leggiest animal makes rare reappearance

Somewhere in San Benito County is crawling a creature with 666 legs.

Exactly where, the scientists who discovered it aren't saying.

"It was extremely exhilarating,'' said entomologists Paul Marek and Jason Bond in the current issue of Nature magazine, after discovering a species of millipede known as Illacme plenipes that had not been seen in California for 80 years and given up for dead, or perhaps squished.

Marek and Bond, both of East Carolina University, discovered the bug last fall, when exploring a valley of oak trees. The overjoyed scientists collected about a dozen specimens, reports San Francisco Chronicle.

According to Houston Chronicle , of the estimated 10,000 species, only one, I. plenipes, comes close to living up to its name and thrives only in California.

"This is a milestone find," said Richard Hoffman, a millipede expert at the Virginia Museum of Natural History who has no connection with the discovery. I. plenipes was first spied in 1926 in San Benito County, about 120 miles southeast of San Francisco, by a government scientist who counted up to a record 750 legs.

A 28-year-old scientist from East Carolina University, Paul Marek, and his brother chanced upon it. They were exploring a lush valley of oak trees in San Benito County, known as a biodiversity hot spot.

"It was extremely exhilarating," said Marek, who published the discovery in Thursday's issue of Nature.

Marek isn't giving the exact location of I. plenipes for fear of people disrupting the ecosystem. He and his brother collected a dozen millipedes and counted their legs under a microscope to confirm that they were part of the same species.

The males had between 318 and 402 legs. Scientists do not know why, despite their name which means 1,000 feet, the maximum number of known appendages on a millipede is 750.

Marek said the discovery of the rare creatures highlighted the need to preserve biological diversity, informs Reuters.