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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Velvet Worms last!

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus

I first read about velvet worms - aka. peripatuses - in Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life - a book about the burgess shale fossils (among other things) and immediately went to look them up on youtube and wikipedia. They are beautiful creatures that, unfortunately, live nowhere near scotland.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus
However I had noted that they do live in New Zealand, so when I decided to take a trip to Auckland, peripatus went straight to the top of my list of things to see!

Over the weeks and months of looking under logs and asking people, I slowly came to the realisation that they are a pretty rare and hard to find animal in New Zealand. Perhaps their range and fecundity have been affected by the massive environmental upheavals of the last few centuries - like so much of the rest of the native fauna.

After three months of nothing, I eventually engaged the enthusiasm of a very experienced local bush man, who had seen peripatuses before and thought he might know a likely spot in the Waitakere ranges.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus
Sure enough, under the first log we looked at we found a small, formless, velvety blob. As I held it in my hands,  it extruded feelers and legs and elongated until there was a fully formed, caterpillar-like creature gliding sinuously over my palm.

We placed it back on its log, and took some photos and videos as it walked about. They are nocturnal, and it was obviously uncomfortable being out and about during daylight on a cold winter's day.

Although we continued looking, that was the only velvet worm we found, and it may be a very long time before I see one again.

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