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Stellenbosch researchers discover five worm species from five million years ago

Stellenbosch researchers discover five worm species from five million years ago
Independent researchers from the University of Stellenbosch have discovered five species of ancient velvet worms in and around the Garden Route National Park (GRNP).

The velvet worms, according to researchers Aaron Barnes, Till Reiss and Savel Daniels, date as far back as five million years.

SANParks said in a statement that most areas of focus for the study are in the park. They include Diepwalle, Goudveld, Groeneweide and Garden of Eden (Harkerville). Areas outside the park include Robinson’s Pass and Witfontein.

The park's general manager,  Vuyiswa Thabethe, said the discovery of the velvet worms which “thrive in pristine habitats”, according to Barnes, proves the healthy condition of the forests.

Why was the study conducted? 

Barnes, Reiss and Daniels were revising information collected during the 2009 study of Cape velvet worms. They also sought to understand the evolution of species.

The initial study managed to collect eight samples while the one completed by the trio in 2019 had 110 samples focusing on large forest complex patches and surrounding farms.

SANParks said the study revealed Peripatopsis clavigera, a species of velvet worms also known as the Knysna velvet worm, comprises five unique species that separated more than five million years ago during the Plio-Pleistocene period.

The park said the researchers expected to find no less than three species.

“Researchers expected to find three isolated species at the most, in geographically discrete areas. Instead, velvet worms were found distributed among many forest patches, sometimes with different species in the same log,” it said.