11 Sep 2008


From Our Changing World, 9:34 pm on 11 September 2008




This species was described as Peripatoides novaezealandiae var. suteri, and initially found only in the Mt Taranaki region. However, it also occurs at Whakapapa, the Coromandel and Waitakere Ranges (image: Landcare Research).



Velvet worms, or peripatus, are intriguing but little-known creatures of the New Zealand undergrowth. They come out at night, they walk on 13 to 16 pairs of stumpy legs and they spit glue to pin down their prey. They look a bit like caterpillars, but taxonomically speaking velvet worms sit somewhere between insects and worms. There are more than 30 species found in New Zealand and they all resemble their ancestors who lived about 550 million years ago - which makes peripatus more ancient than even the tuatara. Veronika Meduna talks to Dianne Gleeson, a scientist at Landcare Research, who spent months combing all parts of New Zealand as part of a major survey and genetic study of peripatus. The image on the left was taken by S. Moore.