Millipede genitals GLOW bright colours under UV light and reveals the species of the individual – but scientists have no idea why

  • Scientists made the discovery when trying to tell different species apart 
  • Using UV light they found the genitals of the animals illuminate different colours
  • The reason is unknown but it is believed to be because of an exoskeleton protein 

Millipede genitals glow bright colours under ultraviolet light. 

The bizarre discovery is an accidental discovery from  scientists who were trying to find an easier way to tell different species of the animals apart. 

They succeeded because they discovered, when exposed to UV light, the genitalia of different millipedes glow.

Many adaptations allow animals to adapt and survive, but there appears to be little reason for the illuminating genitals as the creatures have poor eyesight. 

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Millipede genitals glow bright colours under ultraviolet light. The bizarre discovery comes as an accidental discovery by scientists trying to find an easier way to tell different species apart

Millipede genitals glow bright colours under ultraviolet light. The bizarre discovery comes as an accidental discovery by scientists trying to find an easier way to tell different species apart

Petra Sierwald, who led the study, said: ‘Millipedes don’t see well at all, they don’t see images. I don’t know if they see any colour.’

The creatures often look very similar to other species and the difference in UV glow may come from a protein in the millipede exoskeleton.

It may absorb visible light and return hues of green, yellow and blue when observed under UV light. 

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These theories are currently unproven and academics say much more research is needed in order to find out just why it happens.  

The glowing genitals of Pseudopolydesmus caddo under ultraviolet light which has 70 legs. The genital structures are called gonopods and are located on the seventh ring of millipedes' segmented bodies

The glowing genitals of Pseudopolydesmus caddo under ultraviolet light which has 70 legs. The genital structures are called gonopods and are located on the seventh ring of millipedes’ segmented bodies

WHAT ARE MILLIPEDES?  

Millipedes are arthropods, relatives of centipedes and distant cousins of spiders and insects. 

They have a lot of legs, but nowhere near the ‘thousand’ implied by their name.

They are known scientifically as the class Diplopoda.

Although the name “millipede” derives from the word for “thousand feet”, no known species has 1,000.

The record of 750 legs belongs to Illacme plenipes.   

The genital structures are called gonopods and are located on the seventh ring of millipedes’ segmented bodies.

They collect and distribute sperm to females and the research could shed more light on how the animals mate.  

Ms Sierwald added: ‘One of the benefits of millipede research is we can use them as environmental indicators.

‘By collecting them and seeing where the different species are distributed over time, we can learn about climate and environmental change.

‘And millipedes are important to their ecosystems- they’re decomposers that release nutrients trapped in rotting leaf litter back to the soil.’

The findings were published in the the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.





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