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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, May 15, 2009

An long-lost Millipede rediscovered.

An long-lost Millipede has been rediscovered in the Robertson area.

This event came about following an approach from a Millipede Taxonomist (from Tasmania) - now there's a job description to die for!

Hi, Denis.
I found you through your very nice blog, and have a naturalist's

The background: I'm a millipede taxonomist, trying to rediscover a tiny
millipede species collected by Thomas Steel ca. 1905 at Avoca (NSW). Steel was
an occasional collector around Bundanoon, Moss Vale, Avoca and Wildes
Meadow between ca. 1895 and his death in the 1920s. He made many other
discoveries of leaf-litter creatures besides the millipede I'm tracking.

My wife and I visited the area collecting millipedes (with a permit) at
the beginning of this month. We found millipedes, but not the Steel
species. I subsequently borrowed 'berlesates' from the general area from
the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra. These are
collections of bugs extracted from soil and leaf litter. Again, I found
lots of millipedes in the samples, but not the Steel species.

I'm now thinking I was looking in the wrong forest type. This particular
species may have a habitat preference for heavy wet sclerophyll. The
geology and pre-1850 vegetation maps tell me there was wet sclerophyll on basalt
both at Avoca and the Wildes Meadow area prior to clearing -
Steel may have been looking in the last few remnants.

So, my question is: are there still patches of heavy wet sclerophyll
(tall trees, big rotting logs, lots of moss and thick litter) in the
Belmore Falls section of Morton NP, which unfortunately we didn't get to
last trip?

Best wishes,

The forest type he described does exist at Belmore Falls, but it is more likely to be sandstone based, there, not basalt. The Avoca area (where the particular Millipede he is looking for was originally found) has basalt soil. So I wrote back to Bob suggesting a few local places where we might find relatively undisturbed forest on basalt soil - for the soil substrate seems to be critical in determining the habitat in the Southern Highlands.
Click to enlarge map.
We went out yesterday, and found lots of Millipedes (and centipedes and beetles and spiders and even lizards) living in some really old rotten logs. Many photos of other larger and more handsome Millipedes, which we found are shown below - but ironically, they were not the "unusual" one Bob was in search of.

After several unsuccessful sorties we eventually found some creatures which Bob was hopeful were his specific quarry - a species of tiny white Millipede.

He could not wait to get back home to examine his specimens (he is a licensed scientific collector) under his 100 power Laboratory Microscope. You need to understand that the particular identifying characteristics of this species require microscopic examination of the gonopods of mature males (the sex organs). See this image of examples of Gonopod structural variation between different species of Millipedes - even closely related ones.
Rear views of gonopods of A. bashfordi (left) and A. johnsi (right).
Source: Bob Mesibov's Tasmanian Multipedes website
Specific page:

Although this may sound bizarre, it is a common practice in modern taxonomy, and is a technique used also in distinguishing moth species from eachother, and no doubt many other tiny creatures as well.

This evening I received an email from Bob, now back in Tasmania.

Hi, Denis.

Yes, that tiny pale bugger was the millipede I was after, so history (small h) was made on Thursday! Many thanks again for your help!

Best wishes,
I believe this is the tiny white Millipede in question.
I had tried to take some other photos,
but in a dark forest, it is often hard to focus on such tiny creatures.
Bob has corrected me here. It is a juvenile of another species, unfortunately,
"Tiny white fuzzy is probably a juvenile paradoxosomatid."
So, not only was a Millipede known only from a single collection made in 1905, found again for the second time. But this species can now be properly classified by a modern taxonomist, based upon good specimens, and using modern techniques. No doubt Bob will publish his results in due course.

I am pleased to have been able to play my small part in the making of this piece of "history (with a small h)". When Bob publishes his report, I hope to be able to explain more about why this discovery is so historic.

This rediscovery is reminiscent of a search for Giant Earthworms in the local basalt soil areas, which was organised in 2000 by R.J. Blakemore, a leading expert on Earthworms, who sought to "rediscover" a particular species of Giant Earthworm which J.J. Fletcher had identified at Burrawang in 1886. That a story is written up in Eucryphia, the journal of the Robertson Environment Protection Society, Vol 54, July 2001. I have written about that search, and its report by RJ Blakemore, previously.

Photographic examples of Millipedes found in wet forests on Basalt soil, in the Robertson area. (Click on images to enlarge them)

Creamy white Millipedes, with prominent brown lines along their sides.
Bob commented: "Small cylindrical form with racing stripes is likely to be in Spirobolida,
but currently in 'too hard' basket"
A large black Millipede, with red legs, which curls into a helical spiral (on my glove)
Bob comments: "Dark, cylindrical form with pale rear end is in order Spirobolida. Genus and species possibly already named and known, but currently in 'too hard' basket".
This one curls up in a flat spiral.
These large Millipedes were a greenish grey colour.
Bob commented: "Large greenish-gray cylindrical form is in order Spirostreptida. Hundreds of species in Oz, very few named, no one working on this group."
Bob referred to these next Millipedes as "Beakies" for they have a prominent snout.
They were quite active and sought to crawl away, rather than curl up.
Bob has commented: "'Beakies' are in order Siphonophorida. These are largely tropical millipedes and the highlands forms (species unknown)
are probably the furthest-south species in Australia.
Bob abd I discussed at the time that Robertson is well known for being
on the end of distribution ranges for many species of plants,
for example, where they are either the furthermost north extent (Eucryphia moorei)
or the furthermost south (Chiloglottis sylvestris).
So, a similar distrribution for "Beakies" does not surprise me. It is interesting, though.
This was a very fine specimen
of a brown and black segmented patterned Millipede.
Bob commented: "form with medium brown colour, dark annular rings is another paradoxosomatid common in your area, soon to be named by a specialist."
I believe these are two images of one Bob called "Flat Backs"
They hold their legs more out to the side than other Millipedes.
(Click to enlarge the image to see the legs positions.)
Bob has corrected me here - these are not the "Flat Backs".
"Form with pale paranota (small projections on side) and two parallel pale stripes down back
is Polydesmida: Paradoxosomatidae, an undescribed species in the genus Somethus."

This is a smallish white millipede - but not the species Bob was seeking.
Bob has advised: "Similar looking all-white form is a juvenile paradoxosomatid, could be anything. Para's only acquire full colour and pattern when adult."
I have transcribed Bob's comments, from an email, so I any possible errors will be as a result of that process.

You can find out much more about Millipedes from Bob's websites:
Dr. Bob Mesibov's Home Page
Millipedes of Australia
Tasmanian Multipedes (This covers Tasmanian Centipedes, Velvet Worms and Millipedes)


mick said...

Very interesting indeed. I have never looked that closely at them - know what they are of course - but after reading this post will certainly have a better look next time.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mick
There is a whole other world out there - under leaf litter, and within old rotten logs on the ground - really wet soupy ones, especially.
It sounds dreadful, but, it really was an eye opener for me.
And so good to be able to help Bob make his "find".

Snail said...

Local knowledge --- worth its weight in gold!

Those soupy logs, so rotten you can break them open with bare hands, are also loved by velvet worms. They saunter through, searching for termites and other juicy tidbits.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Snail
Glad to hear your endorsement of local knowledge. Its something amateurs like me can offer the professionals.
I should mention the fact that it was the Blog which brought me to Bob's attention in the first place. Good to see an expert prepared to seek help from locals.
I have some Snail images which I will send you privately, for consideration. I processed the Millipedes first, as I knew Bob would help with them.
Some weird snails, to match the other creatures. Hope they will be of interest to you.
Seeing as you know about "soupy logs" (few people do) - you will probably understand the things I found.
No Velvet Worms, unfortunately - but I now know to look for them, possibly in warmer weather. Bob mentioned them as a possibility.