Jack Daniel’s Millipede Named

Here’s a discovery to raise your glass to—a new millipede named Scoterpes jackdanieli.

The 6.7-millimeter-long species was found in caves on the grounds of the Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, according to a recent study.

Millipede expert Bill Shear, of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, chose the epithet to honor his favorite libation.

“I sent a copy of [the paper] to the Jack Daniel’s distillery,” he told me. “I was hoping to get free case of bourbon, but they never responded.”

A millipede in the genus Scoterpes that looks identical to S. jackdanieli. Photograph courtesy Alan Cressler.

Along with several other new millipede species—described in 2010 in the journal ZootaxaS. jackdanieli specimens sat in museum collections for several decades. The pale, blind millipede had been collected in caves throughout central-southern Tennessee in the mid-20th century, and it wasn’t until recently that Shear dusted them off and identified them.

“Museums are full of unnamed and unknown species that are just hanging in there, waiting to get a name,” he said.

Because millipedes often look similar to the naked eye, Shear determined S. jackdanieli was a new species based on the male’s genitalia, which can be quite complex, even in such tiny organisms. (Related pictures: “‘Torture’ Phalluses Give Beetles Breeding Boost.”)

Like most cave millipedes, S. jackdanieli has long legs and antennae that help it maneuver in the dark. The arthropod also has bristles on its back that produce a sticky substance, presumably as a method of defense, Shear noted.

Other millipedes are known for their more overt chemical defenses—for example, emitting noxious compounds when disturbed.

I actually experienced this firsthand in coastal Alabama when reporting on the Gulf oil spill in 2010.

The author holds a millipede in Alabama. Photograph courtesy Chris Combs.

I’d eagerly picked up a cool-looking millipede on the forest floor when the critter promptly squirted a dark-brown substance onto my palm. The fluid mysteriously hardened my skin, turning it a mahogany color for a few days.

When I described this to Shear, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

It’s the “same chemical,” he said, “used to tan leather.”

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Wildlife

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.