Velvet Worm 
 
 
Scientific Name:
Speleoperipatus spelaeus
Group:
Worms
Status/Date Listed as Endangered:
CR-IUCN: 1996
Area(s) Where Listed As Endangered:
Jamaica

Speleoperipatus spelaeus is one of several species of velvet worm, and is only found in Jamaica. There is very little biological information available for this particular worm. Velvet worms are land-dwelling creatures that are caterpillar-like in appearance (and they even possess antennae). They are claw-bearing creatures with flattened cylindrical body cross-sections, and they possess several rows of unstructured body appendages known as "stub feet." There claws are found throughout the entire length of their bodies. Velvet worms can grow between 0.5 and 20 cm. On average they reach up to 5 cm in length and have between 13 and 43 pairs of legs. The skin consists of a number of fine transverse rings, with orange to red or brown colorations. Some bright green, blue, gold and white velvet worms have been observed.

Velvet worms are most common in the Southern Hemisphere. They are very secretive, living in moist places, such as rotting logs and leaf litter, and they seem to be very sensitive to light. Although they may seem gentle at first glance, they are voracious and active carnivores, preying on smaller animals such as termites, woodlice, and small spiders. They capture their prey by squirting sticky slime from their oral tubes. The slime is also used as self-defence by squirting the face of potential predators and temporarily blinding them, allowing the worm to escape.

Velvet worms have recently become popular in the exotic pet trade due to their bizarre appearance and eating habits. The IUCN Red list lists S. spelaeus as critically endangered. Threats include loss of habitat to industrialisation and the draining and burning of wetlands for agricultural purposes.


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