Monday, October 17, 2022

My New Velvet Worms!!!

It's finally happened, I have Velvet worms! 😁 Specifically, four Epiperipatus barbadensis, courtesy of experienced hobbyist Kevin Nasser. These are some of the most coveted and rarest of invertebrates in culture, though many don't even know they exist. For those of you who don't know what velvet worms are, allow me to explain.

Velvet worms aren't worms, but a group of unique invertebrates in the phylum Onychophora, which is part of three extant phyla that make up the clade "Panarthropoda". These three extant phyla are Arthropoda (so insects, arachnids, crustaceans, etc.), Tardigrada (water bears), and of course, Onychophora (velvet worms). So velvet worms aren't quite arthropods, but they're more closely related to arthropods than actual worms. 😄

Velvet worms have very soft, thin, velvety skin, and as such should never really be handled. Despite their cuddly, chonky appearance, and the fact that they get along great communally, they are actually predatory. They feed on a variety of invertebrates, and they hunt by shooting strings of very sticky slime at prey through two oral papillae, which are a pair of highly modified limbs on the sides of the head below the antennae. The slime strands entangle their prey, and quickly dry, as the velvet worm goes in for the kill.

Overall very neat invertebrates, and so cute too! However, they can be quite fragile in captivity, their thin skin makes them more sensitive to a variety of issues that wouldn't bother most other captive invertebrates, and some species are VERY heat sensitive as well. Thankfully, Epiperipatus barbadensis is one of the hardier, tropical species of Onychophorans, and has slowly been becoming more and more established in the pet hobby for the past few years. This is thanks largely in part to Mackenzie Harrison, the original breeder of this species, who's also written a great caresheet on these creatures which can be seen here.

I've got my group housed in a minimally ventilated container with an inch deep mix of coconut fiber and spent Panesthia substrate. There's a live, rooted Pothos cutting planted there, and they've got moss, leaf litter, and some crumpled paper towels on top of the substrate to hide under. In case you can't tell, I'm going for a more simplistic, sterile setup with these guys, since it's a small starter group that I want to monitor closely.
I'm keeping them at around 75F°, watering them only with distilled water (since chlorinated tap water is harmful to them), and am feeding them prekilled Parcoblatta and live Compsodes. Can't tell if they've eaten any of the Compsodes, but they've messed up the prekilled Parcoblatta, my largest Epiperipatus (a suspect female) ate it's weight in Parcoblatta in one night. 😳

Here are some pictures of my largest individual:

So cute!!! 🥰 Their little feet especially are freaking adorable! 😭🥺 I love them so much, I really hope that out of my four individuals I have a breeding pair, and/or that my largest, suspect female is mated and will produce offspring soon. 🤞😁 

Well, that does it for this post, HUGE thanks to Kevin for sending me these beautiful creatures, I'll do my best to help bolster their numbers in captivity!
Thanks for reading, hope everyone enjoyed, stay safe, and I'll see you all next time! 😉

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