The Velvet Worm

Is it a worm…or is it a millipede or maybe a caterpillar…no it’s a Velvet Worm!

Velvet Worm in moss

Most velvet worms have beautiful geometric patterns formed by the lumps, bumps and scales all over their bodies.

This is a special moment for me.

I have been looking for a velvet worm for at least five years now and at last I’ve found one!

I found it at 11:30 at night, in the rain, in the forest… while I was photographing fungus, you know, just a normal Saturday night.  It was hiding under a mushroom, waiting for some juicy critters to wander past when I accidentally overturned its home with my big clumpy boots.  Bad luck for it, but very good luck for me.

This one is a Kumbadjena species, a Southwestern Australian endemic species.

Velvet Worm in moss

Even the antennae are thick look like they belong on a plush toy.

So, what is a Velvet Worm and why is it so interesting?

Velvet Worms are all kinds of amazing.  Almost every feature about them is strange, weird or obscure, which pretty much puts them at the centre of everything I find awesome.

First of all, they belong to their own Phylum which means they aren’t really closely related to anything except each other.  They are most closely related to the obscure little tardigrades, also known as water bears.

They look very much like a worm with a soft and segmented body, but they also have stubby little legs that they walk around on like a centipede.

Their skin is very similar to an arthropods shell, but instead of being hard it’s stretchy and covered in little bumps and scales which means their skin looks and feels like velvet. Unfortunately, their skin is very poor at holding water, which is why you’ll only find velvet worms in moist environments and active usually at night.

They have retractable claws on its stumpy little legs.  Like a many-legged plush kitten.  So cute!

From L to R: 1.  Claws out for maximum traction.  2.  Padding along its soft ninja feet with claws retracted.  3. Crawling over the lip of this mushroom, the claws really give them great grip on most surfaces.

Just when you thought it couldn’t be any freakier…The Velvet Worms hunting technique is especially peculiar.  They will wait for a little organism to wander past and then squirt it with strings of sticky slime from two little glands on the sides of their head.  Once the prey is completely gummed up, the Velvet Worm will move in and inject the prey with a digestive enzyme.  While it waits for its prey to liquify, it will gobble up all the slime it squirted, before going back to its perfectly pre-digested bug shake.

After I got these shots, and accidentally destroying its little ambush spot under the mushroom, I released it into the damp safety of the nearby moss.

Adios Velvet Worm, see you next time!

Velvet Worm in moss

You can see its beady little black eyes in this image along with the slime-squirting canons on the side of its face.  Directly between the eyes and the first set of legs.

Thanks for reading!  What do you think of the Velvet Worm?    Feel free to leave a comment for me below…

If you’d like to see some more of my adventures with the weird and wonderful life of Western Australia, please head across to my YouTube channel Look Closer and subscribe for my video content.

All photos were taken with Olympus E-M1 ii; the M.Zuiko 60mm macro lens; Godox TT350 and the amazing CygnusTech diffuser.

If you’re interested, my camera gear is very similar to Bridgette’s and Brenden’s (CygnusTech) set up.

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