If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. Well, if you happen to be in certain parts of Laos.

Meet Desmoxytes rhinoceros (top) and Desmoxytes rhinoparva (bottom) – two of the newest additions to the dragon millipede family.

And, according to the authors of the paper published in Zootaxa, these are the first species of dragon millipedes to be recorded in Laos.

Dragon millipedes are members of the Desmoxytes genus, which currently contains 33 species ranging from northern China, through Indochina and south through Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and southern Malaysia.

All but one of the species are found in a single or, at most, a very small group of locations.

Dangerous dragons

So named for their peculiar-looking spiky appendages and often brightly coloured bodies, most dragon millipedes look like characters from an extra-terrestrial horror movie going to a rave.

One of the most vividly coloured, D. purpurosea, from northern Thailand, has been nicknamed the 'shocking pink dragon millipede', or 'mangkorn chomphoo' in Thai.

Its bright aposematic colouration is a clear warning to potential predators that these millipedes are seriously poisonous: they have glands that produce hydrogen cyanide for protection.

And because they produce cyanide, it has been said that they give off an almond-like smell.

The new species, D. rhinoceros, is clearly aposematic, whereas the authors of the latest study noted D. rhinoparva as "quite remarkable" in its colouration, having contrasting pale brownish segments in the middle of the body in both sexes.

The holotypes – a single type specimen upon which the description and naming of a new species is based – of Laos' first dragon millipedes are currently housed in the Museum of Zoology, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

Some of the other specimens of D. rhinoceros were donated to the Zoological Museum, State University of Moscow in Russia.

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