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Discovery of the “king” of the centipedes in a cave cut off from the world for millions of years

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Photo of the recently discovered species (Cryptops speleorex) – © Mihai Baciu / GESS LAB / Mangalia

Researchers recently announced the discovery of a poisonous centipede that is very different from species living on the surface. This one lives in a cave presenting particularly inhospitable conditions, and having the particularity of having been cut off from the world for 5.5 million years.

An atypical and deeply inhospitable ecosystem

Located in Romania, the cave Movile is more than 20 meters below the surface and contains hot and humid air particularly rich in toxic gases, which feeds chemosynthetic bacteria. Yet despite these seemingly hellish conditions, the premises are home to a diverse community of spiders, scorpions, and other arthropods, as well as snails, earthworms, and cave leeches. In research presented in the journal ZooKeys, scientists have added a new poisonous species to the list, dubbed Cryptops speleorex.

Measuring no more than 5 centimeters long, this centipede (whose name means ” cave king ») Dispenses fatal bites and turns out to be the largest predator in this underground ecosystem.

Since its discovery in 1986, few people have ventured into the depths of the cave of Movile. The air is found to be rich in hydrogen sulphide, methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide, and rare oxygen, with levels reaching 7% (against 21% on average on the surface) in some parts. Although the air temperature is relatively comfortable (21 ° C), the relative humidity is 100% and the air circulation is close to zero, according to the study’s authors.

Scientists exploring Movile cave (Romania) – © Mihai Baciu / GESS LAB / Mangalia

Entering the cave is also found to be dangerous, leading explorers down a long, narrow shaft and through winding limestone tunnels that eventually lead to a main cavity enclosing a lake. To explore the rest of the cave system and have the chance to observe the 51 species of invertebrates (34 of which are only found in the cave of Movile) composing the local fauna, speleologists must dive in it and cross narrow passages underwater to reach smaller cavities.

Unique sensory characteristics and capabilities

Possessing a brownish-yellow body and pale yellow antennae, C. speleorex has legs provided from 13 to 17 ” Sawtooth “. As the largest invertebrate predator of this underground ecosystem, the animal sits at the top of the food chain and attacks both primitive insects and spiders, as well as beetles and isopods (crustaceans resembling shrimps).

Although its appearance is reminiscent of the centipede C. anomalans, which we find in particular in Serbia and in other parts of the Romania, C. speleorex is distinguished by longer antennae, more teeth in the legs, and unique sensory abilities.

Our analyzes showed that this centipede was morphologically and genetically different from its terrestrial cousins. “, Estimated the scientists. ” This has evolved over millions of years into an entirely new taxon showing itself to be better suited to living in total darkness.. “

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