Mystery of massive, train-stopping millipede swarms solved

For over a century, thousands of poisonous millipedes have swarmed train tracks in the thick, forested mountains of Japan, forcing trains to grind to a halt. These “train millipedes,” so-called for their famous obstructions, would appear every so often — and then disappear again for years at a time. Now, scientists have figured out why.

It turns out that these millipedes (Parafontaria laminata armigera), endemic to Japan, have an unusually long, and synchronous, eight-year life cycle. Such long “periodical” life cycles — in which a population of animals moves through the phases of life at the same time — have only previously been confirmed in some species of cicadas with 13- and 17-year life cycles, as well as in bamboos and some other plants. 

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