a new velvet worm species from Ecuador

a new velvet worm species from Ecuador

The so-called “living fossil” shoots a sticky substance from a pair of glands to trap its prey.

Researchers have described a remarkable new species of velvet worm from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Take a look below:

While the Tiputini velvet worm (Oroperipatus tiputini) may look friendly, it is an accomplished hunter that shoots a sticky substance from a pair of glands to trap its prey.

However, lead author Jorge Montalvo from the USFQ Museum of Zoology, notes that the species also has a softer side, with the mother taking care of her considerably lighter-coloured young after they are born.

Adult female velvet worm with her offspring on a leaf.
Adult female with her offspring.

Velvet worms, also known as onychophorans or peripatus, are rare and unique invertebrates often referred to as “living fossils” because they evolved over 500 million years ago, long before the appearance of dinosaurs.

Currently, only about 240 velvet worm species are known, inhabiting tropical regions in the Americas, southern Chile, Africa, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and New Zealand.

Adult velvet worm on a leaf.
Oroperipatus tiputini.
Pedro Peñaherrera-R., Archive Universidad San Francisco de Quito USFQ

Published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution, the discovery was more than 20 years in the making. It also represented the first study of Ecuadorian velvet worms for over 100 years.

“The research on this new species took several decades. I discovered the first individual of this new species in 2001, and we finally managed to describe it as part of Jorge Montalvo’s graduation thesis, who is now my colleague at the Museum of Zoology at USFQ. To complete the description, we used not only macromorphological descriptions but also high-magnification images obtained with a scanning electron microscope.”

Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, one of the authors and director of the USFQ Museum of Zoology, Ecuador.

The researchers named the species after the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS), part of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. The name recognises the hard work of the station’s management, research, and field team in protecting biodiversity.

Map of Ecuador showing the location of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station.
Map of Ecuador showing the location of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (white square), type locality of Oroperipatus tiputini sp. nov., in the Amazonian lowlands.

The description of the Tiputini velvet worm raises the total number of described velvet worm species in Ecuador to seven. This species is the first from the Ecuadorian Amazon lowlands and the third in the western Amazon.

Original source

Montalvo-Salazar JL, Bejarano ML, Valarezo A, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2024) A new species of velvet worm of the genus Oroperipatus (Onychophora, Peripatidae) from western Amazonia. Zoosystematics and Evolution 100(3): 779-789. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.100.117952

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