I lost my first japygid dipluran because of a plane. I had just snapped a few photos of the tiny, earwig-like creature scuttling around under a rock, but as I reached out to pick it up, an ear-splitting sound wave hit my ears. I jumped up in alarm not knowing what was happening, but I immediately realized what the source of the sound was as I saw the plane zooming off, the sonic boom shrinking into the distance. Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua mountains of AZ is a popular place for such aircraft to fly through, and when you hear one of those for the first time, by golly it’s loud! Of course by the time I had recovered my senses, the japygid was gone. I laughed at what had happened, but I also feared I wouldn’t see another of these animals, supposedly rare. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about; japygids are common in the Chiricahuas, and I see them almost every day out here. But you’re probably wondering: just what are japygids?
At first glance you might confuse a japygid with an earwig. They are both elongated creatures with six legs and pincer-like appendages on the ends of their abdomens. But it’s just convergent evolution at work – they belong to radically different groups, and japygids aren’t even considered insects! They are diplurans, which have six legs like insects, but their mouthparts are retracted inside a pouch in the head. Japygids are predators, using their forceps to capture and kill even tinier organisms. They are found worldwide but are more common in southern regions, and tend not to be abundant. At the Southwestern Research Station, however, this logic is turned upside down, for japygids can be found under nearly every rock, and are easy to catch (as long as there isn’t a plane roaring overhead!). I had never seen japygids before coming here, so it was a real pleasure to see them so plentifully. Only one genus and species of Japygidae has been described from Arizona, so I’m pretty sure that this is the species I have: Evalljapyx hubbardi.
Japygidae is one of the two most common families of diplurans – the other is the family Campodeidae. Campodeid diplurans are even more slender than japygids, and have two long cerci instead of forceps at the tips of their abdomens. I have discovered them on occasion in Maine and New York, and they are present at the Station as well, but not nearly in as much abundance as the japygids. The campodeids are also found worldwide, where they mostly feed on leaf litter and other detritus.