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A Millipede That (Almost) Lives Up To The Name

No millipede actually has 1000 feet--but the species Illacme plenipes comes closest, with up to 750. Entomologist Paul Marek, who rediscovered the rare species a few years ago in California's coastal mountains, calls counting legs and measuring millipedes a "guilty pleasure."

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Transcript

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Finally, something that might really bug you.

CHRISTOPHER INTAGLIATA, BYLINE: It's known as the leggiest animal on earth.

DR. PAUL MAREK: This critter's name is Illacme plenipes. They have basically 750 legs that they could use to cling on to the surface of the rock.

INTAGLIATA: That's Paul Marek, the entomologist who rediscovered this rare millipede. It's only about an inch long and cream-colored, almost see-through. While no millipede actually has a thousand feet, this guy comes closest. Marek isn't guessing about that, either.

MAREK: Counting legs and measuring millipedes, it's kind of weird, but it's kind of a guilty pleasure of mine.

(LAUGHTER)

INTAGLIATA: But why so many legs? Because they're rock climbers and use legs to grip the sandstone boulders where they live.

MAREK: Imagine one of these creatures, you know, there's a human-sized millipede climbing up El Capitan in Yosemite.

INTAGLIATA: These millipedes are really rare. They have only been found in two spots on the planet. Both are in the mountains east of Monterey, California.

MAREK: And we're not letting folks know where that area is because we're worried about the safety of the ecosystem and the perseverance of the species.

INTAGLIATA: By keeping the millipede's stomping grounds a secret, Marek hopes to give them a leg up on extinction. For SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Christopher Intagliata.

FLATOW: And that's about all the time we have today. Before we go, the Leonid meteor shower is peak tomorrow morning, Saturday morning before dawn. It should be a good show, 20 shooting stars per hour forecast. Hope the weather cooperates with you. Get up - tonight, stay up late. Get up early tomorrow morning to see the Leonid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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