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Classification of Polydesmida

Millipedes make up the class Diplopoda within the phylum Arthropoda. 'Diplopoda' comes from the Greek diploos, 'doubled', and podos, 'foot'. The name refers to the fact that most millipede body rings, viewed from the side, have two feet.

Diplopoda is divided into 16 orders, one of which is Polydesmida. For an overview of the classification into orders, see the excellent article on millipedes in Wikipedia.

Polydesmida were grouped into 30 families in a widely accepted scheme published by Rowland Shelley in 2003. There has since been some lumping of families Golovatch and co-workers (2009, 2013), and Shear and Reddell have further revised the Polydesmoidea (2017), reversing some of Golovatch's lumping. In 2016, a strange millipede from a cave in Brazil was placed in the new suborder Dobrodesmidea and assigned its own family (Shear et al. 2016). Shelley and Smith (2018) have lumped three families into one in Xystodesmoidea. The classification shown below is a work in progress!

For each of the families, I give below an estimate of number of described species, some idea of the family's natural distribution, and my information sources. Warning: this list is only a guide! As Shelley (2007, p. 347) writes:

Many polydesmidan families are so globally widespread, internally diverse, and extremely speciose that full revisions are prohibitive, and many more species and genera remain to be discovered in most large families so that any such treatment will quickly become obsolete.

Order POLYDESMIDA Pocock, 1887
  Suborder Dalodesmidea Hoffman, 1980
      Family Dalodesmidae Cook, 1896
        ca 340 species, Australia, Madagascar, New Caledonia, New Zealand, southern Africa, southern South America (Hamer and Mesibov, catalog in preparation)
      Family Vaalogonopodidae Verhoeff, 1940
        7 species, southern Africa (Hamer and Mesibov, catalog in preparation)
      Family not certain (dalodesmidean species not yet assigned to a family)
        13 species, Australia (Hamer and Mesibov, online catalog, in preparation)
  Suborder Dobrodesmidea Shear et al., 2016
      Family Dobrodesmidae Shear et al., 2016
        1 species; Brazil (Shear et al. 2016)
  Suborder Leptodesmidea Brölemann, 1916
    Superfamily Chelodesmidea Cook, 1895
      Family Chelodesmidae Cook, 1895
        400+ species; Africa, Central and South America (Hoffman 1980, 1982)
    Superfamily Platyrhachoidea Pocock, 1895
      Family Aphelidesmidae Brölemann, 1916
        ca 30 species, Central America, Caribbean. northern South America (Hoffman 1999)
      Family Platyrhacidae Pocock, 1895
        250+ species, Indo-Australian Region and North, Central and South America (Hoffman 1982)
    Superfamily Rhachodesmoidea Carl, 1903
      Family Rhachodesmidae Carl, 1903
        66 species, Central America (Hoffman 1999)
      Family Tridontomidae Loomis and Hoffman, 1962
        3 species, Guatemala (Hoffman 1999)
    Superfamily Sphaeriodesmoidea Humbert and de Saussure, 1869
      Family Campodesmidae Cook,1896
        ca 8 species, Sierra Leone to Nigeria (Hoffman 1982)
      Family Holistophallidae Silvestri, 1909
        11 species, Central America (Hoffman 1999)
      Family Sphaeriodesmidae Humbert and de Saussure, 1869
        ca 90 species, SE USA to Panama, Greater Antilles (Hoffman 1999)
    Superfamily Xystodesmoidea Cook, 1895
      Family Gomphodesmidae Cook, 1896
        146 species, tropical and southern Africa (Hoffman 2005)
      Family Oxydesmidae Cook, 1895
        152 species, Africa and Lebanon (Hoffman 1990)
      Family Xystodesmidae Cook, 1895
        400+ species, widepread in N Hemisphere (Shelley and Smith 2018)
  Suborder Polydesmidea Pocock, 1887
   Infraorder Oniscodesmoides Simonsen, 1990
    Superfamily Oniscodesmoidea de Saussure, 1860
      Family Dorsoporidae Loomis, 1958
        1 species, Panama (Hoffman 1999)
      Family Oniscodesmidae de Saussure, 1860
        ca 27 species, Central and South America (Hoffman 1980, 1982)
    Superfamily Pyrgodesmoidea Silvestri, 1896
      Family Ammodesmidae Cook, 1896
        ca 5 species, Africa (VandenSpiegel and Golovatch 2003)
      Family Cyrtodesmidae Cook, 1896
        ca 30 species, Costa Rica to Trinidad and Peru (Hoffman 1982)
      Family Pyrgodesmidae Silvestri, 1896
        ca 250 species, Central and South America, Africa, South and SE Asia, East Indies, Oceania (Hoffman 1980, 1982)
   Infraorder Polydesmoides Pocock, 1887
    Superfamily Haplodesmoidea Cook, 1895
      Family Haplodesmidae Cook, 1895
        ca 35 species, East Asia, Australia (Golovatch et al. 2009a, 2009b, 2010)
    Superfamily Polydesmoidea Leach, 1815
      Family Cryptodesmidae Karsch, 1880
        100+ species, E and SE Asia to New Guinea, Central and South America, W Africa, Sri Lanka (Hoffman 1980)
      Family Macrosternodesmidae Brölemann, 1916
        ca 35 species, Europe and North America (Shear and Reddell 2017)
      Family Opisotretidae Hoffman, 1980
        ca 8 species, SE Asia and New Guinea (Hoffman 1980, 1982)
      Family Polydesmidae Leach, 1815
        160-200 species, N Hemisphere (Hoffman 1982)
      Family Trichopolydesmidae Verhoeff, 1910
        more than 120 species, Europe, Central America, North America, South America, West Indies, Africa, South Asia (Golovatch 2013, Hoffman 1980, 1982)
  Suborder Strongylosomatidea Brölemann, 1916
      Family Paradoxosomatidae Daday, 1899
        970+ species, all continents except North America and Antarctica (Nguyen and Sierwald 2013)


Golovatch, S.I. 2013. A reclassification of the millipede superfamily Trichopolydesmoidea, with descriptions of two new species from the Aegean region (Diplopoda, Polydesmida). ZooKeys 340: 63–78. 

Golovatch, S.I., Geoffroy, J.-J., Mauriès, J.-P. and Vanden Spiegel, D. 2009a. Review of the millipede family Haplodesmidae Cook, 1895, with descriptions of some new or poorly-known species (Diplopoda, Polydesmida). ZooKeys 7: 1-53. 

Golovatch, S.I., Geoffroy, J.-J., Mauriès, J.-P. and Vanden Spiegel, D. 2009b. Review of the millipede genus Eutrichodesmus Silvestri, 1910 (Diplopoda, Polydesmida, Haplodesmidae), with descriptions of new species. ZooKeys 12: 1-46. 

Golovatch, S.I., Mikhaljova, E.V., Korsós, Z. and Chang, H.W. 2010. The millipede family Haplodesmidae (Diplopoda, Polydesmida) recorded in Taiwan for the first time, with the description of a new species. Tropical Natural History 10(1): 27-36. 

Hoffman, R.L. 1980. Classification of the Diplopoda. Geneva: Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, Genève; 237 pp. 

Hoffman, R.L. 1982. Diplopoda. Pp. 689-724 in Parker, S.B. (ed), Synopsis and classification of living organisms. Vol. 2. New York, McGraw-Hill. 

Hoffman, R.L. 1990. Das Tierreich. 107. Myriapoda 5. Polydesmida 4. Family Oxydesmidae. Berlin and New York: W. DeGruyter and Co.; 512 pp. 

Hoffman, R.L. 1999. Checklist of the millipeds of North and Middle America. Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publication 8: 1-584. 

Hoffman, R.L. 2005. Monograph of the Gomphodesmidae, a family of African polydesmoid millipeds. Wien: Verlag des Naturhistorischen Museums Wien; 537 pp. 

Marek, P.E. and Bond, J.E. 2006. Phylogenetic systematics of the colorful, cyanide-producing millipedes of Appalachia (Polydesmida, Xystodesmidae, Apheloriiini) using a total evidence Bayesian approach. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 41: 704-729. 

Marek, P., Tanabe, T. and Sierwald, P. 2014. A species catalog of the millipede family Xystodesmidae (Diplopoda: Polydesmida). Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publication 17: 1-117. 

Nguyen, A.D. and Sierwald, P. 2013. A worldwide catalog of the family Paradoxosomatidae Daday, 1889 (Diplopoda: Polydesmida). Check List 9(6): 1132–1353. 

Shear, W.A., Ferreira, R.L., Iniesta, L.F.M. and Marek, P. 2016. A millipede missing link: Dobrodesmidae, a remarkable new polydesmidan millipede family from Brazil with supernumerary rings (Diplopoda, Polydesmida), and the establishment of a new suborder Dobrodesmidea. Zootaxa 4178(3): 371-390. 

Shear, W.A. and Reddell, J.M. 2017. Cave millipedes of the United States. XIV. Revalidation of the genus Speorthus Chamberlin, 1952 (Diplopoda, Polydesmida, Macrosternodesmidae), with a description of a new species from Texas and remarks on the families Polydesmidae and Macrosternodesmidae in North America. Insecta Mundi 0529: 1–13. 

Shelley, R.M. 1990. Revision of the milliped family Eurymerodesmidae (Polydesmida: Chelodesmidea). Memoirs of the American Entomological Society 7: 1-112. 

Shelley, R.M. 2003. A revised, annotated, family-level classification of the Diplopoda. Arthropoda Selecta 11(3): 187-207. 

Shelley, R.M. 2007. Taxonomy of extant Diplopoda (Millipeds) in the modern era: Perspectives for future advancements and observations on the global diplopod community (Arthropoda: Diplopoda). Zootaxa 1668: 343–362. 

Shelley, R.M. and Smith, J.M. 2018. Expanded concept and revised taxonomy of the milliped family Xystodesmidae Cook, 1895 (Polydesmida: Leptodesmidea: Xystodesmoidea): incorporations of Euryuridae Pocock, 1909 and Eurymerodesmidae Causey, 1951, taxon revivals/proposals/transferrals, and a distributional update. Insecta Mundi 0660: 1–41. 

VandenSpiegel, D. and Golovatch, S.I. 2003. Review of the East African millipede genus Elassystrema Hoffman & Howell, 1981 (Diplopoda: Polydesmida: Ammodesmidae), with descriptions of three new species. Arthropoda Selecta 12 (3-4): 183-191.

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