Did you know there is an animal that lurks in the jungles of Trinidad and Tobago that is so rare and weird that you might think it’s something out of a science fiction movie?
Velvet worm is rarely seen (Macropipatus torquatus) It has a set of anatomical features of different animals which makes it so unique that it belongs to its own phylum (a level of classification of animals below kingdom and above class).
If you are lucky enough to see this creature in real life, you may notice that it shares similar characteristics with arthropods such as centipedes and millipedes.
For example, it wanders like a millipede and has two antennas like a centipede.
But as aquatic ecologist Dr. Ryan Mohamed told Newsday Kids, velvet worms are not arthropods because they lack a tough exoskeleton.
However, this is not the only unique anatomical feature of this animal.
Muhammad explained: “The internal structure of the velvet worm is very similar to the structure of annelids such as the earthworm, for example.
Meanwhile, it shares characteristics with mollusks but does not have a shell.
“So, they are not mollusks or proximal or arthropods, but in fact they belong to a group of animals in their own right because they share characteristics of three different phyla.”
So what exactly are velvet worms?
Muhammad said that these animals are classified in their own phylum called the onychophora.
Velvet worms can be up to 15 cm in length and are solitary, which means they spend most of their lives alone.
They can be found in different colors including red, purple, brown and orange with outer coverings that usually look like velvet.
They are fierce predators and have a distinctive hunting style.
Mohammed explained, “They will catch other insects such as cockroaches, grasshoppers and ants. But the way they hunt is very exciting.
“Spiders will spin a web from their abdomen and although their webs are sticky, they are dry.
Velvet worms spew two streams of extremely sticky slime from the bumps near their mouths toward the organism.
“They toss it in a spiral motion and so they hunt their prey…then they feed off the juices of their prey.”
Mohamed assures you that you don’t want to touch the slime of the velvet worm or put it between your fingers because it is as strong as crazy glue.
If you didn’t think velvet worms were weird before, hearing how they reproduce might change your mind.
“They undergo external reproduction as the female can actually get pregnant by deposition of sperm on them. The female absorbs the sperm through her body. They also give birth to young.”
According to their unique existence, these animals require very specific environmental conditions to survive.
Trinidad has at least one type of velvet worm and Tobago is supposed to have its own species as well.
“They like very high altitude and high humidity, do well in cold temperatures and don’t like to dry out (dry out) because their outer shell is so soft.”
In Trinidad, velvet worms have been spotted in the village of Braso Seco, Aribo and near the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
To show how rare it is, Mohammed said he only saw one in the 1990s in Princess Town.
“It is very difficult to find them because they spend a lot of time under the leaves and logs of trees. In the Arima Valley, you can find them on very wet cliff faces where there are a lot of mosses and ferns.”