Introduction to the Onychophora

"Velvet worms" with an ancient history indeed

The average resident of the Northern Hemisphere is probably not familiar with the Onychophora; they are restricted to forest regions of South America, Africa, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Shy creatures, able to hide in incredibly tight crevices, these "velvet worms" (about ninety living species known) are rarely seen even in their natural habitat. Yet onychophorans are of great interest to biologists, because they seem to be related to arthropods, and give us an idea of what the ancestors of the arthropods may have been like. Although they are rare as fossils, a number that have been found from the Cambrian period. These fossils show that abundant marine relatives of the Onychophora flourished in the seas 520 million years ago.

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