A tarsal spinning organ in glomeridesmid millipedes
The production of sticky threads from spinnerets is known from various myriapod groups including some representatives of the millipedes (Diplopoda). In Diplopoda the thread-producing glands are mostly seta-like and positioned terminally on the telson, and the secretion product is typically used to build molting chambers or egg sacs. So far, no such secretions or organs have been documented for the subgroup Pentazonia. Here we describe thread-producing glands from the species-poor Glomeridesmida. These putative spinning organs are single circular fields of small pores (spinning fields) positioned on the outer side of the tarsi of all walking legs of mature and juvenile individuals of both sexes. These pores are the openings of cuticular tubuli (conducting canals), which extend from the tarsus to an aggregation of cells, a putative gland, within the femur. In several specimens thin threads were observed to be extruded from the pores. The tarsal spinning fields are present in all 21 investigated Glomeridesmida morphospecies, including Termitodesmidae and Glomeridesmidae from South East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Oceania, and South and Central America. These organs might constitute an apomorphic character of the Glomeridesmida, as similar organs are absent in other Myriapoda. The function of the extruded threads in Glomeridesmida remains speculative, because observations of living specimens of the group are almost non-existing. We suggest that the secretion might be used for defense, to build molting chambers or to secure tunnels burrowed in the substrate.