Thursday, April 30, 2009

Velvet Revolver

I have been somewhat disappointed with the limited ability for back-and-forth communication on Blogger, so, at the suggestion of some of my colleagues at the Writing Center1, I’ve started a forum on another site, which can be found here. Please visit it, and let’s start some fun discussions. This month’s EUT comes once again from ARKive, though I’m sure I had seen it in the past, and skipped over it due to lack of information. I think I’ve got enough to talk about this time around, so here is the Pink Velvet Worm

Image from ARKive
Image from ARKive

At a little more than an inch long, the Pink Velvet Worm (Opisthopatus roseus) looks something like a squishy centipede. However, it belongs to the phylum Onychophora, though most of the members look quite similar to the human eye. Velvet worms, as they are commonly called, are quite closely related to the Arthropods, though they lack the jointed legs that give the latter group its name. Instead, they have dumpy-looking caterpillar-esque legs with a pair of claws on the bottom of each.

All velvet worms are carnivorous, feeding on any invertebrate smaller than them. Much smaller prey are simply hunted down and eaten, but for larger prey, they have the coolest prey capture method: twin projectile glue guns concealed in their face, which they can fire up to ten times their body length. This glue is also useful for deterring predators, because no one wants that in their eyes.

Back to the Pink Velvet Worm itself. It has been found in a single forest in South Africa, and this forest has been logged heavily since the 1900s, both for the wood, as well as for plantations of non-native vegetation. These three factors—the small range, the logging, and the invasive species—have conspired to place the Pink Velvet Worm on the Critically Endangered list.

Conservation efforts are still in the works, of which listing is just one. They are putting together education efforts, which have worked in the past for other animals. Also, there are five Pink Velvet Worms in captivity, and hopefully we can learn more about what they do from these squishy little ambassadors to our race.

1Yeah, I’ve been working at a Writing Center for about a year now. It’s made me a heck of a lot more confident with my writing. There’s no better way to learn something than by teaching someone else.