Why study Onychophora?

Euperipatoides rowelli
An undescribed species of Peripatopsidae from Tasmania

Onychophorans or velvet worms are carnivorous, terrestrial invertebrates, which are mainly found in rotted logs and leaf litter in tropical and temperate forests of the southern hemisphere and around the equator [1]. Together with tardigrades (water bears), onychophorans are regarded as the closest relatives of arthropods [2, 3] (spiders, centipedes, crustaceans, insects and allies) – the largest and most diverse animal groups on Earth [4]. However, in contrast to arthropods, the anatomy of onychophorans has changed little since the Early Cambrian [5, 6], which is why they are important for addressing various evolutionary and other scientific questions, for example:

  • How did the panarthropod ancestor look like? [2, 5, 6]
  • What are the origins of vision and colour vision? [7, 8]
  • How are the major arthropod groups related to each other? [9]
  • What is the developmental basis of animal segmentation? [3]
  • What is the phylogenetic position of tardigrades? [2, 3]
  • How did the arthropod head evolve? [2, 5, 10]
  • What are the origins of the arthropod nervous system? [9–13]
  • How did the mitochondrial genomes evolve? [14–16]
  • Was New Zealand submerged and recolonized by terrestrial animals? [17]
  • To what extent are velvet worms useful for conservation? [18–21]
  • What is the actual species diversity of Onychophora? [18–21]
  • Can the onychophoran slime be used for bioengineering? [22, 23]

  • On the Onychophora Website, you will find some information on these charismatic animals. For additional details on current projects and research topics, please visit our Group’s Website at the University of Leipzig.

    References

    1. Oliveira et al. (2012) ZooKeys 211:1–70.
    2. Mayer et al. (2013) PLoS ONE 8(3):e59090.
    3. Mayer & Whitington (2009) Dev. Biol. 335:263–275.
    4. Nielsen (2012) Animal Evolution. Oxford Univ. Press.
    5. Ou et al. (2012) Nat. Commun. 3:1261.
    6. Haug et al. (2012) Curr. Biol. 22:1673–1675.
    7. Mayer (2006) Arthropod Struct. Dev. 35:231–245.
    8. Hering et al. (2012) Mol. Biol. Evol. 29:3451–3458.
    9. Mayer & Whitington (2009) Proc. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 276:3571–3579.
    10. Mayer et al. (2010) BMC Evol. Biol. 10:255.
    11. Mayer & Harzsch (2007) BMC Evol. Biol. 7:118.
    12. Mayer & Harzsch (2008) J. Comp. Neurol. 507:1196–1208.
    13. Whitington & Mayer (2011) Arthropod Struct. Dev. 40:193–209.
    14. Podsiadlowski et al. (2008) Mol. Biol. Evol. 25:42–51.
    15. Braband et al. (2010) Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 57:285–292.
    16. Braband et al. (2010) Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 57:293–300.
    17. Allwood et al. (2010) J. Biogeogr. 37:669–681.
    18. Oliveira et al. (2010) Zootaxa 2493:16–34.
    19. Oliveira et al. (2011) PLoS ONE 6(6):e19973.
    20. Oliveira et al. (2012) PloS ONE 7(12):e51220.
    21. Oliveira et al. (2013) Zool. Anz. 252: 495–510.
    22. Haritos et al. (2010) Proc. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 277:3255–3263.
    23. Baer & Mayer (2012) J. Morphol. 273:1079–1088.