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Dinosaur-era Amber Discovered with 'Unexpected' Millipede Species Inside

According to a study published in the journal ZooKeys, the creature—which has been named Burmanopetalum inexpectatum—represents the first fossil millipede of the animal order Callipodida, casting new light on the evolutionary history of these animals.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

/ by Myheartcares
Dinosaur-era Amber Discovered with 'Unexpected' Millipede Species Inside



Researchers have identified a new, tiny species of millipede in 99-million-year-old amber from the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar.

According to a study published in the journal ZooKeys, the creature—which has been named Burmanopetalum inexpectatum—represents the first fossil millipede of the animal order Callipodida, casting new light on the evolutionary history of these animals.

“Imagine a tiny millipede of less than a centimeter [0.4 inches]: next to its modern relatives, which measure up to 10 centimeters in length, it would be considered a dwarf!” Pavel Stoev, lead author of the study from National Museum of Natural History in Bulgaria, told Newsweek.

“Even more impressively, it lived in times when terrific dinosaurs and huge arthropods roamed the Earth,” he said. “For example, ancient millipedes of the genus Arthropleura that inhabited North America and Scotland some 315 to 299 million years ago are known to have reached 230 centimeters in length. As for Burmanopetalum inexpectatum’s habitat, it was most likely a ground-dweller in warm temperate forests of dense pine- and Sequoia-like trees, liverworts and ferns.”

The amber containing the specimen was in the hands of Patrick Müller from Germany—who has one of the world’s largest collections of animals found amber from Myanmar. In fact, the team was able to examine over 400 amber stones containing millipedes. However, Stoev says that B. inexpectatum—whose name derives from the Latin word for “unexpected”—clearly stuck out.

“As soon as we started to examine the specimen, we came to realize its scientific value, and here’s how our project began,” he said.

To analyze the specimen and confirm its novelty, the team used an advanced new technology known as 3D X-ray microscopy, which enabled them to reconstruct a digital model of the animal's body and observe tiny traits that are rarely preserved in fossil. The results revealed a number of unusual characteristics: so unusual, in fact, that the scientists had to create a new suborder to classify it.

“Unlike its modern relatives, the species is peculiar in having a specially shaped last segment, which would have played a role in its biology,” Stoev said. “Surprisingly, it also lacks characteristic hair-like outgrowths on the back, which are present in all extant members of the order Callipodida. Another unusual feature is its very simple eyes, whereas most of its modern peers have complex vision.”

The researchers say that the identification of B. inexpectatum provides new insights into the evolutionary history of its order.

“Being the first fossil member of the millipede order Callipodida ever discovered, we now finally have sound evidence that this lineage emerged at least 99 million years ago,” Stoev said. “Furthermore, we now know how the morphology of these millipedes has evolved and which characteristics have undergone the most significant changes.”


Dinosaur-era Amber Discovered with 'Unexpected' Millipede Species Inside"The entire Mesozoic Era—a span of 185 million years—has until now only been sampled for a dozen species of millipedes, but new findings from Burmese amber are rapidly changing the picture,” he said in a statement. “In the past few years, nearly all of the 16 living orders of millipedes have been identified in this 99-million-year-old amber. The beautiful anatomical data presented by Stoev et al. show that Callipodida now joins the club."

The newly described millipede, Burmanopetalum inexpectatum, seen in amber.LEIF MORITZ

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