Venomous centipede discovered in Earth's most isolated ecosystem

King of the Cave: Venomous centipede is discovered at the top of the food chain in a sulphurous Romanian cave thought to be the most isolated ecosystem on the planet

  • Movile Cave was discovered by workers in 1986 — and has been off-limits since 
  • The cave is pitch black and has only half the oxygen levels that we are used to
  • However, life thrives there by living off bacteria that grows on the cave walls
  • The new centipede species, Cryptops speleorex, grows to around 2 inches long

A venomous centipede — dubbed the ‘King of the Cave’ — has been discovered in the world’s most isolated ecosystem, a remote, sulphurous cavern in Romania.

Experts from Austria, Bulgaria and Finland studied the arthropod from Movile Cave after it was collected by explorers Serban Sarbu and Alexandra Maria Hillebrand.

The team believe that the centipede — Cryptops speleorex — evolved from a surface-dwelling relative over millions of years to cope with the cave’s darkness.

A venomous centipede (pictured) — dubbed the ‘King of the Cave’ — has been discovered in the world’s most isolated ecosystem, a remote, sulphurous cavern in Romania

Experts from Austria, Bulgaria and Finland studied the arthropod (pictured) from Movile Cave after it was collected by explorers Serban Sarbu and Alexandra Maria Hillebrand

First discovered in 1986 by workers scouting for suitable locations to construct a new power plant, Movile cave has largely remained off-limits since.

Oxygen levels inside the cave are only at around 10 per cent — less than half of the atmospheric levels we are used to — and only a few dozen people have been permitted inside in the last three decades. 

Without breathing equipment, visitors would only be able to stay in the cave for five-to-six hours before their kidneys packed in.

The subterranean ecosystem brims with rare and unknown species, which feed off the tissue-paper like film contain millions of bacteria that lines the cave wall and feed off of carbon dioxide and methane.

Many of the cave’s denizens are born without eyes, which would be useless in the dark. Almost all are translucent — as they have lost the pigment in their skin.

Many also have extra-long appendages such as antennae to help them feel their way around in the darkness.

And the main predator is the ‘King of the Cave’, which measures in at 1.8–2.0 inches (4.6–5.2 cm) in length — roughly the size of a baby carrot.

Other species found in the cave include the troglobiont water scorpion, liocranid and nesticid spiders and cave leeches. There are likely many more to be discovered.

The team believe that the centipede — Cryptops speleorex, pictured — evolved from a surface-dwelling relative over millions of years to cope with the cave’s darkness

Movile Cave’s main predator is the ‘King of the Cave’, pictured, which measures in at 1.8–2.0 inches (4.6–5.2 cm) in length — roughly the size of a baby carrot

‘Our results confirmed our doubts and revealed that the Movile centipede is morphologically and genetically different,’ said paper author and biologist Nesrine Akkari of the Museum of Natural History Vienna.

‘It has been evolving from its closest surface-dwelling relative over the course of millions of years into an entirely new taxon that is better adapted to life in the never-ending darkness.’ 

“The centipede we described is a venomous predator, by far the largest of the previously described animals from this cave.’

‘Thinking of its top rank in this subterranean system, we decided to name the species Cryptops speleorex — which can be translated to “king of the cave”.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal ZooKeys.

First discovered in 1986 by workers scouting for suitable locations to construct a new power plant, Movile cave has largely remained off-limits since

Oxygen levels inside the cave are only at around 10 per cent — less than half of the atmospheric levels we are used to — and only a few dozen people have been permitted inside in the last three decades. Pictured, researchers in the cave

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