The Romans believed the entrance to the Underworld lay below a crater in what is now Italy. But if we can trust a study published today in the journal ZooKeys, Hades actually lives just across the Adriatic Sea, at the bottom of a Croatian cave.

I speak, of course, of Geophilus hadesi, the newly discovered centipede named for the god of the underworld himself. 

Hades -centipede -discovery _2015_06_30
Behold, Geophilus hadesi. Image: J. Bedek

The arthropod was found at depths of up to -1,100 meters inside three caves in Velebit National Park, one of which is known as the 15th deepest cave in the world. This means that G. hadesi is officially the deepest-dwelling centipede known to science. 

And guess who it just dethroned? That’s right, G. persephones. Because scientists are excellent at naming things. 

The Hades and Persephone centipedes are considered the only members of their order to be true troglobites, or animals that spend their entire lives in the dark parts of caves. (Obviously, this Persephone doesn’t get a nine-month sabbatical.)

As a true troglobite, the Hades centipede has sort of let itself go. But can you blame it? It’s not like people are going to stare when it scurries to the grocery store.

The species is characterised by its extra-long trunk segments and antennae. Oh, and you probably won’t see those “unusually long claws of the legs” on a cute and cuddly desktop calendar any time soon. (“They always pass us over!” hisses Hades.)


At just 2.2–2.8 cm in length, these critters are quite small, but they do boast 33 pairs of legs, powerful jaws and a few poison glands, so you can still list them among the creatures you don’t want to meet in a dark alley. Luckily, you won’t, unless that alley is located somewhere near the river Styx

But seriously, it was really, really difficult for Croatian biospeleologists (the folks who study cave-dwelling organisms) to find this little guy. We’re talking caves that are blocked off by ice and snow for most of the year, then straight vertical descents that give way to enormous caverns. Exactly four specimens of the Hades centipede have been found – and one of those was doing its best Cliffhanger impression so the scientists couldn’t actually collect it. (It was this Sylvester Stallone centipede that won the species the “deepest-dwelling” title, of course.)

Hades -centipede -cave _2015_06_30
Hades lives down there. The entrance to one of the caves where the centipedes were discovered. Image: M. Jekić

Several earlier species-finding missions to these caves yielded nothing. Even baited pitfall traps, a feast in barren environments like caves, came up empty. 

It wasn’t until 2011 that scientists caught their first glimpse of Hades, thanks to a particularly dedicated member of the team who spent 18 straight hours looking for life. (At least, that’s the story lead author Pavel Stoev of the National Museum of Natural History is selling. Eighteen hours? Sounds like somebody got left in time-out.)


Now that the King and Queen of the Underworld are officially recognised by science, I say it’s time we start looking for Cerberus. And not the lame, one-headed snakes and copepods that already bear its name. I’m talking a legit, three-headed hell-hound. 

Because if this snake can have a spider for a tail and this caterpillar can have a snake head for a butt, then anything’s possible.