Sunday 16 June 2024

Oroperipatus tiputini: A new species of Velvet Worm from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Velvet Worms, Onychophora, are a unique group of elongate, soft bodied, many legged  Animals, given phylum status and considered to be among the closest living relatives to the Arthropods. They are currently the only known phylum of Animals known entirely from terrestrial species, both living and fossil, although they may be related to the Lobopodans, an entirely marine group known only from Early Palaeozoic fossils. 

The 230 living Velvet Worm species are divided into two groups, the Peripatidae, found in the tropics of Central and South America, the Antilles Islands, Gabon, India, and Southeast Asia, and the Peripatopsidae, found in Chile, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand. All South American members of the Peripatidae are placed within a single clade, the Neopatida, which is further divided into two lineages, the 'Andean' genus Oroperipatus, and the 'Caribbean' lineage, comprising all other genera.

In a paper published in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution on  14 June 2024, Jorge Montalvo-Salazar of  the Instituto de Biodiversidad Tropical at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and the Laboratorio de Zoología Terrestre at the Quito Museo de ZoologíaLorena Bejarano and Alfredo Valarezo of the Instituto de Energía y Materiales at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and Diego Cisneros-Heredia, also of the Instituto de Biodiversidad Tropical at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and the Laboratorio de Zoología Terrestre at the Quito Museo de Zoología, and of the Estación de Biodiversidad Tiputini of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and the Ecuadorian Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, describe a new species of Oroperipatus from the Amazonian lowlands of Ecuador.

The new species is described from five male, three female, and three juvenile specimens collected in the vacinity of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Orellana Province, Ecuador, between 2001 and 2023, as  well as one youngling, which one of the female specimens gave birth to in captivity. The new species is named Oroperipatus tiputini, in reference to the location where it was discovered. 

Oroperipatus tiputini, adult female holotype (ZSFQ-i8248) and youngling paratype (ZSFQ-17794) a few days after being born. Pedro Peñaherrera in Montalvo-Salazar et al. (2024).

Adult female specimens of Oroperipatus tiputini very between 46 and 65.3 mm in length, while the adult males are smaller at 22.7 to 39.8 mm. Females have between 37 and 40 pairs of legs, while the males have between 34 and 37, although one male specimen had a different number of legs on each side, with 35 legs on the right and 36 legs on the left. The species shows considable colour variation, with one adult male being a light brown colour with a faint rhomboid pattern, two adult males and one adult female being brown with orange diamonds, and another female (the one which produced a youngling) being a plain dark orange colour. The youngling itself was yellowish with a diamond pattern. All specimens were darked on their heads and antenae,  had orange or brown legs, and a distinctive white band on the head.

Oroperipatus tiputini, adult male paratype, ZSFQ-i8270. Pedro Peñaherrera in Montalvo-Salazar et al. (2024).

Most specimens of Oroperipatus tiputini were found on small herbaceous Plants within old growth, closed canopy upland forests around the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. Other specimens were found in leaf litter, or on the butress roots of trees to a height of about 70 cm above the ground. One specimen was found in a Bromiliad. The Worms were more active at night. 

Oroperipatus tiputini, adult male paratype, ZSFQ-i5151. Diego Cisneros-Heredia in Montalvo-Salazar et al. (2024).

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