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Millipede trapped in amber for 99 million years gets its moment to shine

Behold all of its tiny legs, gloriously preserved.

The newly described millipede (Burmanopetalum inexpectatum) stuck in amber.

Leif Moritz

A tiny millipede stuck in amber has had 99 million years to contemplate its sticky predicament. The itsy insect didn't live to enjoy its 2019 coming-out party as a scientific curiosity, but the rest of us can marvel at the remarkable specimen.

The millipede is trapped in Cretaceous-era amber found in Myanmar. Researchers determined the millipede is the first fossil found from the order Callipodida, but it was strange enough to require a new suborder. It's now called "Burmanopetalum inexpectatum," with the latter word meaning "unexpected" in Latin.

The researchers created this 3D model of the millipede.

Leif Moritz

The team created a 3D model of the 0.3-inch (8.2-millimeter) millipede to more closely study its anatomy.

"With the next-generation micro-computer tomography (micro-CT) and the associated image rendering and processing software, we are now able to reconstruct the whole animal and observe the tiniest morphological traits which are rarely preserved in fossils," said zoologist Pavel Stoev of the National Museum of Natural History in Bulgaria.

Stoev is the lead author of a paper on the millipede published this week in the journal ZooKeys

The Callipodida order of millipedes still exists today, with over 100 species crawling around the planet. This particular fossil was the only one of its order found among over 500 millipede specimens trapped in the same amber deposit. 

Fossil arthropod expert Greg Edgecombe from the Natural History Museum in London welcomed Burmanopetalum inexpectatum to the club of ancient amber-encased millipedes. 

"In the past few years, nearly all of the 16 living orders of millipedes have been identified in this 99-million-year-old amber," Edgecombe said. 

Congratulations, little millipede, you're a trailblazing representative for your order.