A Nearly Nine-Foot-Long Millipede Once Crawled the Earth

Fossils are incredible things. They have the power to teach us the beauty—and terror—that existed long before we roamed the Earth. And one of the more recent discoveries errs on the creepier side. Literally. Entomophobes beware: It’s about to get buggy. Scientists discovered the fossil of a giant millipede that crawled along Earth 326 million years ago. And to simply call it giant is an understatement. The millipede, which we first learned about at Smithsonian Magazine, was almost nine-feet tall and weighed about 110 pounds.

A reconstruction of a giant millipede
Neil Davies

The team, led by Neil Davies, published their findings in the Journal of Geological Society just before Christmas. And according to the scientists, their millipede might just be the biggest arthropod to ever creep along Earth. Davies, a fellow at the University of Cambridge, and a group of scientists were in the North East of England when they discovered the fossil in January 2018. The fossil was in a chunk of sandstone that fell from a cliff onto the beach in Northumberland’s Howick Bay.

In a statement, Davies remarked on the “fluke” discovery. He said, “The way the boulder had fallen, it had cracked open and perfectly exposed the fossil, which one of our former PhD students happened to spot when walking by.”

While the fossil, which took 4 people to carry up the cliff during the May 2018 extraction, was a little under two-and-a-half feet (75 centimeters), the scientists estimate the creature itself was just under nine feet tall—more formally 8.85 feet and 2.7 meters. So several inches bigger than eurypterids a.k.a. the sea scorpions that previously reigned as Earth’s biggest arthropod.

A fossil of a giant millipede
Neil Davies

“Finding these giant millipede fossils is rare, because once they died, their bodies tend to disarticulate, so it’s likely that the fossil is a moulted carapace that the animal shed as it grew,” Davies also said in the statement. “We have not yet found a fossilised head, so it’s difficult to know everything about them.”

If you’re curious as to how these giant millipedes lived in the chilly North East of England of all places, the Earth was not what it was 326 million years ago. Northumberland was a bit more tropical during the Carboniferous Period, sitting in the equatorial region. Which was, of course, about 100 million years before dinosaurs cavorted around. The millipedes allegedly lived for about 45 million years. They went extinct during the Permian period, which was, in the grand scheme of time, just before the dinosaurs arrived. The paper didn’t name their exact cause for extinction but suggested two plausible reasons: global warming and the rise of reptiles competing for the same habitats and resources.

a scientific reconstruction of an ancient millipede
Neil Davies

So while we’ll surely encounter several spooky creatures in Jurassic WorldDominion, at least we won’t see a giant, many-legged millipede. Oh, and for the kicker? The team didn’t say exactly how many legs the millipede had but guessed somewhere between 32 and 64. So not a ton but I’m sure they’re very big.

Top Stories
Trending Topics