Cape experts find new worm species

A Cape velvet worm battles a scorpion.

Cape Town – A research group at Stellenbosch University has described two new velvet worm species in the Western Cape.

The group led by Professor Savel R Daniels of the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University found significant differences in the make-up of the worm species that qualifies them as a new species.

The worms live in rotten logs and are difficult to find. Joint researcher Hilke Ruhberg and as well as other researchers had previously identified unique species in Australia, Zealand and Brazil but the species found in the Cape is distinct.

“The Cape Peninsula, and specifically Rhodes Memorial, represents the type locality of P capensis. However, since all the Cape Peninsula samples, including samples from Rhodes Memorial formed a single distinct, statistically well-supported clade [group consisting of a species], all samples in this clade are referred to as P capensis,” the researchers wrote in Zootaxa.

The researchers collected the samples of the velvet worms (Onychophora) from the environment for study as well as from the Iziko Museum of Cape Town for comparison.

The samples were then studied with a scanning electron microscope to determine unique features. They were also labelled with the GPS co-ordinates of where they were found to ensure that the researchers could trace the environment.

The data was confirmed by DNA analysis by researchers at Stellenbosch University.

The velvet worm is a critical indicator of ecosystems health and are nocturnal, preying on small insects as part of the food chain.

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