Velvet worms shoot nets of “super slime” to snare their prey. The more a spider or cricket struggles, the more the slime net hardens. There’s no escape.
Scientists recently discovered the amazing properties of velvet worm slime, which solidifies into strong threads when exposed to force. More remarkable, these threads can be dissolved in water and formed again.
Solving the velvet worm’s secrets could lead to the development of new kinds of recyclable plastic and other materials.
Velvet worms come in all colors of the rainbow and range from one to eight inches long. This gorgeous blue velvet worm was photographed in New Zealand.
It shouldn’t be surprising that velvet worms have so much to teach us—they have been around for ages. They belong to a group of animals that is more than 500 million years old called Onychophora, which means “claw bearers.”
What, a worm with claws? The velvet worm isn’t a worm at all. It’s more closely related to insects. But yes, it sports claws on its 13 to 43 pairs of stubby feet. And it can retract them, like a cat does.
About 200 species of velvet worms sling their slime in tropical forests in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Central and South America and Southeast Asia.
Don’t worry. This secretive, nocturnal creature cleans up after itself. The velvet worm is known to eat its net for an appetizer. Then it moves onto the next course. Having injected its prey with venom that liquefies its innards, it slurps its spider soup.
Check out this video of a velvet worm in action—if you dare!
velvet worm photo by emma-and-tom, creative commons.