Discovered in Costa Rica the “world’s biggest worm”

Deep in the forests of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica was the largest Onychophora or velvet worms of the world. With a length of 22 cm, has captured the attention of the scientific community, which has even considered one of the top 10 new species discovered in the international arena.

The Onychophora are small invertebrate predators that hunt small prey with a sticky network, composed mainly of water and protein. Usually they are known in a reduced sized, but this country has found an extraordinary size.

Julián Monge Nájera, Dean assistant of research at the Distance State University (UNED), is part of the science team responsible for the finding. Along with him, worked hard the taxonomist Bernal Morera Brenes, who is part of the Museum of Zoology, University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the biologist Alejandro Solórzano López, an expert on reptiles and amphibians of INBio Park.

“The discovery was a random event, like all discoveries. Looking for snakes, the colleague Alejandro Solórzano found the Onychophora and contacted me to inquire about this species. This work would not have been possible without the valuable contribution of Bernal Morera, “said Monge Nájera.

Scientific tests were conducted by Morera Brenes, who relied on overseas laboratories for DNA testing, while in Monge Nájera the research went around the life of the specimen, by his training as ecologist.

Meanwhile, Lopez Solorzano said he found the Onychophora on a tour of research collection of reptiles and amphibians in Rio Blanco of Liverpool, on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica. “In this place I found the first issue, to see it, I decided to take him where Julian was to analyze it without thinking that we were before the surprise of a giant,” he added.

After the discovery they should ensure that the species was not a capricious act of nature. Biologists had the task of demonstrating its reproduction from the presence of more specimens, before releasing the news to the scientific community.

And so it was. A process of research in the area led them to meet with about 25 species.
“Fortunately we had enough material to work with, we could see their processes of reproduction and, as important data, we note that at birth, the specimen is the average size of an adult of any species,” he said Solorzano Lopez.

Once assured its existence, they decided to publish an article in the Journal of Tropical Biology at UCR, to account for the scientific community.

Following that publication, the International Institute for Species Exploration at the University of Arizona contacted specialists to seek permission to reproduce the respective article and include the found of the Onychophora in an annual list of the 10 new species the world.

That choice was made by an international committee headed this year by Dr. Mary Liz Jameson, Department of Biological Sciences, from the State University of Wichita, Kansas. The committee was composed of taxonomic experts from various regions of the world, and has representatives from Plan International Index of Names and the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.
Furthermore, a publication in London has expressed interest in publishing the discovery.

“Without any doubt, make that the scientific community turn their eyes to Costa Rica is a great achievement and we are very satisfied. Throughout this project, although we have developed each of us with our own resources, I have the full backing up of the UNED and the Dean assistant for research, “said Monge Nájera.

The new species Peripatus solorzanoi, sp.nov. is characterized by its primary papillae and conical convex, with rounded bases and more than 18 rows of scales above. By a decision of Morera Monge Najera and Brenes, the species is named after the biologist from the INBio Park for have being who provided the species.


Translated by Mariana Jaramillo Wong | ANCA24

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