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Key to velvet worms


As of 25 September 2013, I no longer maintain this website. For taxonomic and distribution information about Tasmania's millipedes, go to Millipedes of Australia. Send me an email if you have technical queries about other groups, but please note that the information here is likely to be out of date.

velvet worm

In Tasmania, egg-laying (oviparous) velvet worms have 14 pairs of legs and and live-bearing (ovoviviparous) velvet worms have 15 pairs of legs. The illustration above shows how to count legs. The small appendages on either side of the mouth (oral papillae) are not legs: they are the outlets for a sticky slime which velvet worms spray out to catch their prey. The slime may also be used for defence.

The common name 'velvet worm' refers to the velvety appearance of the skin, which is densely covered with tiny folds and bumps. Zoologists call these animals 'onychophorans' (and sometimes 'peripatus'). Velvet worms live mainly in forest litter and prey on other litter-dwelling animals. They are found in the tropics and subtropics, and in the temperate zone of the Southern Hemisphere. The number of species known from Australia has increased dramatically in recent years, and is now about 90. The global total is likely to be several hundred.

Tasmania has at least 25 species of velvet worm, all endemic to Tasmania. They are rarely seen because they are exceptionally good at hiding, sometimes deep inside rotting logs. The densest populations of velvet worms seem to be in the open eucalypt forests in the eastern and southern portions of the Central Plateau. Velvet worms are very hard to find in some apparently suitable natural habitats, such as the lowland rainforests of the Northwest and West Coast. Egg-laying species are remarkably tolerant of habitat disturbance. They can persist for long periods in tiny, degraded bush remnants on farms, and they have successfully colonised Pinus radiata plantations.



1a.  14 pairs of walking legs (egg-laying species)
..........go to 2
1b.  15 pairs of walking legs (live-bearing species)
..........go to 3

 
 

2a.  Pale blue or lilac with blue mid-dorsal stripe; northwest Tasmania
..........'Ooperipatellus cryptus'

cryptus

2b.  Variously coloured, often richly patterned
..........Ooperipatellus decoratus and undescribed egg-laying species

other oviparous
 

3a.  White or pink/mauve; northern East Coast
..........go to 4

 

3b.  Dark blue-gray with tan or orange patterning; southern and western Tasmania
..........Undescribed live-bearing species

'Tasmania' sp
 

4a.  Pure white
..........Tasmanipatus anophthalmus

BVW

4b.  Pink or mauve on top, white beneath
..........Tasmanipatus barretti

GVW

Images of T. anophthalmus and SW ovoviviparous sp. on this page are from photos by Claudia Brockmann and Dave Watts, respectively, and are used with permission.