2020 SUMMER CAMP EXEMPLARY STUDENT WORK
The Velvet Worm
Zhuohan L. (rising 6th grader)

Imagine walking along the trail in the Australian Rainforest and suddenly, a straight line of goop hits your face. You glance by and see an Australian velvet worm lumber by on its “Arcade legs”. You look at it and think, this is a very cool creature. Velvet worms are very strange in both their body, defense and offense, making them one of the world's most thriving species.

The Australian velvet worm’s body is very strange. Its name originates from its skin, which has a leathery and velvety feeling. The skin also has tiny rumpy bumps called papillae. The papillae repel water, making the velvet worm safe and dry even in marshy conditions. It feels like you are holding an unpolished leather jacket. Lumbering on uneven ground with hydraulic legs, each one equipped with a retractable spike, grasping for things to climb on. Its body can grow from 2 inches to a whopping 8. Its head has 2 medium length antennae equipped with the same papillae. The eyes are fairly small, but they can see fairly well. These strange features help the velvet worm adapt to its marshy and twisty conditions. The velvet worm may seem like a squishy and cute little worm, but the only weak thing is its name.

Velvet worms are really at defending themselves. Velvet worms are really weak because of soft skin. They are usually aware of this problem, so they go into dark and wet places in the Rainforest, usually preferring a low lying shrub or leaf. Large spiders do not prefer wet places, so they usually avoid the marshes where the Australian Velvet worm thrive. Even if any predators like tarantulas and large birds come into the home the velvet worm will either camouflage or stand head on with the predator. The velvet worm has cells that have fluids that taste really bad, so predators are deterred from eating it or else it will have a consequence. However, the velvet worm’s strangest feature is saved for attacking.

The velvet worm is amazing at offense. Its legs are really slow, with a max speed of 2 inches per second, so it's not the type for chasing its prey. However, why do Velvet worms need to chase when they've got the perfect, long-range ambush weapons? Two modified legs on its face called oltubes blast two strands of sticky biological glue. Each oltube is controlled by HUGE slime glands that stretch all the way to the end. When the velvet worm attacks, it sizes up its prey (beetles, cockroaches, spiders, Katydids, crickets, harvestmen etc.) then blast huge amounts of the glue at them. Most of it usually won't be able to hit the target, but once it hits, the glue dries quickly, causing the prey to get caught in a tight bond. Once the prey is trapped, the velvet worm crawls over the prey and uses its cookie cutter mandibles to cut through. Digestive enzymes suck the “bug juice” out and break down meat. Velvet worms use this method to hunt, and it is very efficient.

There are many animals on Earth. Some of them are very common, and we know them well. Others are strange and interesting, like the Australian velvet worm. From glue guns to claw legs, the Australian velvet worms are very peculiar.

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