In 1998, a research team for the Central Park Conservancy assessed the park’s ecosystem; then in a rather trodden and disheveled state. Led by Liz Johnson and Kefyn Catley of the American Museum of Natural History, they collected samples of various flora and fauna for analysis in an effort to better understand and preserve the park’s health. From samples of retrieved leaf litter, ten creature measuring 0.4 inches long with poisonous fangs and 82 legs were discovered: a heretofore unknown species of centipede.
The team sent the creatures off to various taxonomists for positive ID; among them, Richard Hoffmann of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. After examining it, Hoffmann concluded that this wasn’t only a new species but a new genus of centipede. He, in turn, sent it off to centipede experts in Italy who named it Nannarrup hoffmani in his honor. “The new centipede’s closest relatives are found in East Asia, and Hoffman believes it may have made its way to the Big Apple in something as ordinary as potting soil.”
This happened in 2002, four years after the initial discovery, and made headlines in and out of the scientific world. However, Hoffmann is dismayed by the fact that it took so long; that taxonomy, a once marvelous branch of science, has grown somewhat faded. Molecular biology, and more high-tech and ambitious scientific pursuits, are overshadowing the more traditional fields of biological inquiry. “We’re coasting on the glamour of biodiversity but losing the ability to identify the creatures on this planet.”
Even when a new species/ genus of creature is discovered in one of the biggest parks in one of the biggest cities on Earth, it tends to receive the bum’s rush. Urban legends, like alligators in the NYC subway system, are usually given more respect.
(Note: Centipedes do not actually have 100 legs; their legs could vary from 20 to over 300 in number.)