Would you set aside a small swath of natural forest to protect this millipede? Or would you allow some important mining to proceed which could greatly enrich your local community?
How about seven? Let’s say you just discovered seven new species of life, cute little ping-pong sized millipedes that chirp, which existed on earth before the dinosaurs died out when Madagascar was a part of India.
And let’s say they all live in an area where the incredibly rich resource of titanium was just discovered, too. You know! That Star Wars metal that is stronger than steel but with only a fraction of the weight and doesn’t begin to melt until 1600 F.
Let’s say the bugs aren’t going to help any person except scientists trying to unweave the incredible biological history of Madagascar, and that the titanium will create enough wealth to send hundreds maybe thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of kids through college.
We don’t have “to say” it, it’s true. It’s another of Madagascar’s unending stories as scientists take greater and greater advantage of the country’s growing periods of peace and stability.
The first of this genera of weird literally prehistoric insects was discovered in 2009, but recently more thorough excavations of the area have found seven new and entirely separate species.
The separate species live in unique areas, from tiny swaths of forests to single humid caves surrounded by near desert. Fossils found near them are beginning to paint a picture of prehistoric Madagascar that is richer and more complicated than ever conceived before.
One of Madagascar’s most compelling mysteries is whether its current rich biodiversity which is so incredibly endemic evolved from before it split with India, or whether it evolved faster afterwards from vagrants that more or less washed ashore.
These millipedes are going a long way towards answering that question.
Rio Tinto, the mega mining multinational whose Madagascar division QIT Minerals has been given the license to mine the area, claims that exhaustive environmental studies will protect ten percent of the area so that once reclaimed by nature these species can repopulate.
But titanium mining is extremely severe. Basically giant shovels bigger than you can possibly ever imagine dig up wholesale parts of the earth and throw it on super conveyers that crush into into near dust then filter out the titanium, leaving a scorched earth with giant piles of lifeless dirt.
The value of the project is “in the billions” … of dollars.
“If you conserve the ‘wrong’ 10 percent, the endemic millipedes will be extinct. Irreplaceably. A forest can be replanted (hopefully), but the unique fauna which needed millions of years to evolve will be gone,” Thomas Wesener of the Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum in Bonn, Germany, told American Scholar.
Billions of dollars or millions of years?