Velvet worms belong to a phylum of their own, the Onychophora, meaning 'claw-bearers' (3), and are a fascinating group of ancient, caterpillar-like animals that have changed little over the last 400 million years (4). These small, delicate-looking animals have long fascinated scientists, being described as a ‘missing link’ between arthropods (a group that includes insects and spiders) and annelids (segmented worms) due to their unusual combination of features (3). Ringed antennae are positioned on top of the head, with eyes near the base (5), and there are 18 pairs of stumpy, un-jointed, clawed legs down the whole length of the body (3).
Once thought to be extinct (6), the pink velvet worm is distinguished from other Onychophorans by its deep, dusky, rose-pink colouration (1) (2). The surface of velvet worms is covered with numerous papillae, comprised of delicate rows of overlapping scales that make it water repellent, which is useful in their moist habitats (3). Tiny hairs at the tip of the papillae are sensitive to touch and smell, and it is these scales and hairs that give these worms the velvety appearance that has earned their common name (3) (5).
- Length: up to 40 mm (2)