T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Velvet worms (Genus: Peripatus & Genus: Ooperipatellus)

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Onychophora
Class: Udeonychophora
Order: Euonychophora
Family: Peripatidae
Genus: Peripatus or Genus: Ooperipatellus
Species: 9 species have been described to date.
Common name: Velvet worm, walking worm, ngaokeoke.

There are approximately 200 species of peripatus worldwide and are believed to be an evolutionary "link" between annelids and arthropods.
In New Zealand, there may be up to 30 different species but only 9 have been described: 
Peripatoides aurorbis (Auckland, Waikato), 
Peripatoides suteri (Taranaki Waitakere ranges, Whakapapa, Coromandel). 
Peripatoides indigo (Nelson region), 
Peripatoides sympatrica, 
Peripatoides kawakaensis,
Peripatoides morgani (Waikato, south through centre North Island.
Peripatoides novaezealandiae (Wellington area).
Ooperipatellus viridimaculatus (Most of the South Island). 
Ooperipatellus nanus (Takitimu Ranges, Fiordland).

All species of Peripatus described from New Zealand belong to two genera – Peripatoides genus which all are ovoviviparous (live-bearing) and Ooperipatellus genus of which three are ovoviviparous (live-bearing) forms and two are oviparous (lay eggs). New Zealand Peripatus grow up to 35mm in length.
Peripatuses are nocturnal invertebrate that resemble a caterpillar with many pairs of legs (13-16). The legs are not jointed like arthropod legs, although they possess arthropod-like claws. The outer covering of the body is a cuticle covered in unique microscopic projections known as papillae. These papillae give Peripatus its velvety texture. The body is composed of segments like those of annelids (segmented worms), with segmentally arranged nephridia (a vertebrate kidney). Excretion is through these nephridia. The eyes are similar to those of annelids.
They breathe through spiracles. There are some 2000 of these tiny openings in the body cuticle. They are short, simple, unbranched tubes that completely lack any closing mechanisms and thereby render Peripatus prone to dehydration. Antennae are present on the head. 
Peripatus is a nocturnal carnivore. They feed by trapping prey (mostly small insects) in twin streams of a white, sticky fluid that it ejects from two heavily internally branched slime glands (oral papillae) near its head. These openings are on the third head segment, to the left and right of the mouth. The New Zealand Peripatus species can shoot this net like glue a few centimetres. The fluid hardens on contact with the air immobilizing the prey. It then chews a hole in its prey's exoskeleton with its claw like mandibles and injects hydrolytic, digestive enzymes. These dissolve the internal organs which it then sucks out the prey's pre-digested viscera.
New Zealand species are thought to live for 5 years and the females can produce 10–20 offspring each year. They are threatened by habitat loss and by predators such as introduced birds, rats and hedgehogs. 

This link is to an informative publication on Peripatus by the Department of Conservation.
http://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/conservation/native-animals/invertebrates/peripatus-ngaokeoke-report.pdf

This is a llink to details of some of NZ Peripatus
http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/science/plants-animals-fungi/animals/invertebrates/systematics/onchyphora/current-taxonomic-status

A video showing the spraying of a net onto a prey.
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Peripatus novaezealandiae (Wellington)


The range of Peripatus species in New Zealand.

The remnants of the glue like net sprayed by Peripatus.

 

 


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