Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 19, 2023


Will Harlan, (828) 230-6818,

Endangered Species Protection Sought for Rare Cave Millipede in Virginia

Mountain Valley Pipeline, Development Threaten Ellett Valley Millipede

BLACKSBURG, Va.— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect the Ellett Valley millipede under the Endangered Species Act.

The milky-white millipede clings to survival in Virginia in only eight remaining caves threatened by urban development and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. A ninth cave where the millipede occurred was destroyed by a quarry.

“These tiny cave dwellers have been around for millions of years, but they could disappear forever in the next few decades,” said Will Harlan, a senior scientist at the Center. “The Ellett Valley millipede exists nowhere else in the world, and the species urgently needs federal protection.”

Millipedes were one of the first animals to breathe atmospheric oxygen, and they have been on Earth for more than 400 million years. Millipedes as large as cars once roamed the planet. Today the largest millipedes are only a few inches long, and the Ellett Valley millipede is less than an inch.

The Ellett Valley millipede would be the first millipede protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Act currently protects more than 740 animal species in the United States, including 32 species of butterflies, bees, damselflies, and other insects and arthropods.

The millipede is threatened by rapidly expanding urban development. Blacksburg has grown by 35% in the past two decades, and forested areas surrounding the caves have been bulldozed for subdivisions and golf courses.

In addition, the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would pass directly through the Ellett Valley millipede’s range and four of the millipede’s remaining cave sites, threatening its survival and degrading water quality.

The millipede’s karst cave landscape is especially sensitive and vulnerable to water pollution, which it can easily transport from surface sources to groundwater aquifers. Increased clearcutting, lawn chemicals, insecticides and toxic runoff are threatening the survival of millipedes and the health of surrounding communities.

“Federal protection will safeguard our water quality while also saving this irreplaceable species from extinction,” said Harlan. “Protecting this millipede is good for wildlife and good for people.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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