|Image: David R. Maddison|
There are people out there with pet centipedes, feeding them mice and smiling fiendishly at the resulting carnage.
There are others with pet millipedes, watching them eat vegetables and giggling with delight as countless legs crawl across their quivering skin.
But no one has a pet Pauropod.
There's a good reason for that: few would ever see it.
Pauropod is Greek for "small foot", and they certainly got that right. Pauropods are 0.5 to 2 millimetres (0.02 to 0.08 in) long, which is virtually nothing at all.
Aside from that, they are most closely related to millipedes and lead a similar life. The 700 or so species live in the usual, dark places; soil, leaf litter, under bark, moss and so on. They eat decaying organic matter. Some have strong mandibles to grind through solid food. Others look like they'd require something a lot more liquid.
With their tiny size they can afford to do without some stuff. Like eyes and a heart. Most don't bother with the trachea that other invertebrates use for breathing. Also they're quite soft, as in their exoskeleton just isn't particularly tough. This means they can really run and zip around like minute wild things.
Genetic Modification Proposal
But there are some other attributes that I think would be extremely popular among Myriapod pet enthusiasts. If only they could get them in something a little (a lot) bigger.
- Their softness means they can stretch and shorten their body. Kinda ridiculous in something so puny.
- They have one little extravagance. Branching antennae. They're almost like deer antlers, only you will neither impress nor horrify anyone if you put one on your wall.
- After laying eggs in soil their hatchlings emerge with just three pairs of legs. They add new ones each time they moult.
If we could get that stuff on a big centipede or millipede it would at least triple the price for enthusiasts. We could make millions! But it's not on one of those. It's on a Pauropod. And if you need a magnifying glass to see it, it's probably not your pet.