The millipedes, described in a study published in the journal ZooKeys on Friday, belong to the genus Nannaria – an assemblage of small-bodied millipedes distributed in eastern North America.
These millipedes are typically chestnut brown to black with a bimaculate pattern of orange to red, or white spots and may rarely also have stripes, according to scientists from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in the US.
Researchers say the little-known invertebrates have a valuable role as decomposers, living on the forest floor, feeding on decaying leaves and other plant matter, and helping release nutrients into the ecosystem.
The millipedes are somewhat tricky to catch since they tend to remain buried in the soil, “sometimes staying completely beneath the surface”, according to scientists.
Due to their presence in museum collections, entomologists long suspected that Nannaria millipedes included many new species.
However, these specimens went undescribed for decades.
As part of a multi-year project to collect new specimens of the millipedes throughout the eastern US, scientists, including Derek Hennen from Virginia Tech traveled to 17 states, checking under leaf litter, rocks, and logs to find species so that they could sequence their DNA and scientifically describe them.
Assessing over 1,800 specimens collected during their field study or taken from university and museum collections, researchers described 17 new species.
These include Nannaria marianae – named after Dr Hennen’s wife – and Nannaria swiftae, named after the 11-time Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Taylor Swift.
“Nannaria swiftae is only known from Tennessee and has been collected in the following counties: Cumberland, Monroe, and Van Buren,” scientists wrote in the study.
The species, according to the scientists is named “in honor of the artist Taylor Swift, in recognition of her talent as a songwriter and performer and in appreciation of the enjoyment her music has brought DAH [Derek Hennen].”
“This species has been collected in mesic forests with hemlock, maple, oak, tuliptree, witch hazel, and pine, at elevations ranging from 481m (1,578ft) to 1,539m (5049ft),” they said.
Entomologists expect to discover more new species of millipedes in the southern Appalachian Mountains.
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