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17.02.2022 10:00

Sucking millipedes: independent evolution of a complex sucking pump in arthropods

Sabine Heine Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Leibniz-Institut zur Analyse des Biodiversitätswandels

    Museum Koenig & University of Bonn

    Whether nectar-sucking butterflies or blood-sucking mosquitoes - the ingestion of liquid food has long been known for many insects and other arthropods. A research team from Germany and Switzerland, led by the LIB and the University of Bonn, now shows that millipedes also use a sucking pump to ingest liquid food. A sucking pump has thus evolved independently in different groups of organisms over several 100 million years. In the process, astonishingly similar biomechanical solutions for ingesting liquid food have evolved in widely distant animal groups. The study results have been published in the journal Science Advances.

    Joint press release with University of Bonn.

    Like insects, crustaceans and arachnids, millipedes belong to the megadiverse group of arthropods. While liquid-based diets have been described for insects and arachnids, it was previously only suspected that some millipedes also feed on liquid food. A team led by scientists Leif Moritz (Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change, University of Bonn), Dr. Thomas Wesener (Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change) and Prof. Dr. Alexander Blanke (University of Bonn) now studied the heads of representatives of the species-poor and exotic Colobognatha.

    Using high-resolution tomography as well as histological methods and electron microscopy, the researchers discovered a sucking pump in millipedes that is strikingly similar to those of insects. It consists of a chamber that is widened by strong muscles to suck in liquid food. "Together with the protractible mouthparts the sucking pump enables these millipedes to ingest more or less liquid food," explains Leif Moritz, a doctoral student at the University of Bonn and the LIB.

    The research team was thus able to show that the functional tools for a diet with liquid nutrients have evolved several times independently in all major subgroups of arthropods. "The biomechanical-morphological similarities between the groups of organisms indicate the strength of selection as soon as a food source provides even a slight evolutionary advantage," elaborates Alexander Blanke head of the working group for evolutionary morphology at the University of Bonn.

    The study also provides insights to better understand the origin of species diversity. This is because, in contrast to the very species-rich sucking insects with over 400,000 species, the group of Colobognatha millipedes comprises only about 250 species. "Consequently, liquid-based feeding alone is not a general driver of species richness," adds Thomas Wesener, head of the Myriapoda section at LIB. Because these millipedes mostly rely on moist habitats and cannot fly, their dispersal options appear limited, and they are more vulnerable to environmental change. "Today's sucking millipedes are probably a relict group and the remnant of a once much larger diversity," Alexander Blanke assumes.


    About the LIB
    The LIB is dedicated to researching biodiversity and its changes, the results of which are disseminated to the wider society in an educational manner. In order to better understand the current mass extinction of flora and fauna, researchers are looking for connections and causes of – often – man-made changes. The goal is to develop solutions for the preservation of ecosystems and species in order to maintain the basis of current life.

    About the Leibniz-Association
    The Leibniz Association combines 96 independent research institutes. Their focus ranges from the natural, engineering, and environmental sciences to the humanities and the business, space, and social sciences. The Leibniz institutes focus on relevant social, economic, and ecological issues. They perform knowledge-oriented and applied research (also among the cross-disciplinary Leibniz research alliances), are or support scientific infrastructures, and offer research-based services.

    About the University of Bonn: where excellent minds develop their potential
    The University of Bonn is one of eleven German Universities of Excellence and the university with the most research Clusters of Excellence – six in total. It has produced more Nobel Prize laureats and Fields Medal winners than any other German university in recent decades. The University of Bonn stands for world-class, top-notch science and research. For 200 years, the University has been shaped by outstanding scientific personalities, research-led degree courses, the international flair of being the German city of the United Nations, a dynamic, worldwide networked scientific region and - last but not least – by the livable Rhineland in the heart of Europe.

    Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

    Leif Moritz
    Section Myriapoda, LIB Bonn
    Tel. +49 228 9122-423

    Dr. Thomas Wesener
    Head of Section Myriapoda, LIB Bonn
    Tel. +49 228 9122-425

    Prof. Dr. Alexander Blanke
    Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, University of Bonn
    Tel. + 49 228 73 5130


    Moritz L., Borisova E., Hammel J.U., Blanke A., Wesener T. (2022) A previously unknown feeding mode in millipedes and the convergence of fluid feeding across arthropods. Science Advances, Volume 8, Issue 7
    doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abm0577


    The tropical boring millipede Rhinotus purpureus is often found on fungi, which it presumably feeds on with the help of a sucking pump in its small pointed head.
    The tropical boring millipede Rhinotus purpureus is often found on fungi, which it presumably feeds ...

    © Leif Moritz

    : Some millipedes, like this siphonophorid have a long beak with mouthparts that can be moved back and forth like a saw.
    : Some millipedes, like this siphonophorid have a long beak with mouthparts that can be moved back a ...

    © Leif Moritz

    Merkmale dieser Pressemitteilung:
    Biologie, Umwelt / Ökologie
    Forschungsergebnisse, Wissenschaftliche Publikationen



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