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Velvet worms, or onychophorans, include placented species and, as a group, have survived all mass extinctions since the Cambrian. They capture prey with an extraordinary adhesive net that appears in an instant, like a flow that pops from a magician’s hand. We do not know who first saw them, but the first naturalist to formally mention them was the Reverend Lansdown Guilding (1797-1831), a British naturalist from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. His life is as little known as the history of the field he initiated, onychophorology. This is the first general history of onychophorology, and I have divided it into half century periods. The beginning, 1826-1879, was defined by former students of great names in the history of biology, like Cuvier and von Baer. This generation included Milne-Edwars and Blanchard, and the greatest advances came from France, with smaller but still important contributions from England and Germany. In the 1880-1929 period, work concentrated in anatomy, behavior, biogeography and ecology, but of course the most important work was Bouvier’s mammoth monograph. The next half century, 1930-1979, was important for the discovery of Cambrian species; Vachon’s explanation of how ancient distribution defined the existence of two families; Pioneer DNA and electron microscopy from Brazil; and primitive attempts at systematics using embryology or isolated anatomical characteristics. Finally, the 1980-2020 , with research centered in Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica and Germany, is marked by an evolutionary approach to everything, from body and behavior to distribution; for the solution of the old problem of how they form their adhesive net and how the glue works; the reconstruction of Cambrian onychophoran communities, the first experimental taphonomy; the first country-wide map of conservation status (from Costa Rica); the first model of why they survive in cities; the discovery of new phenomena like food hiding, parental feeding investment and ontogenetic diet shift; and for the birth of a new research branch, Onychophoran Ethnobiology, founded in 2015. While a few names appear often in the literature, most knowledge was produced by the mass of researchers who entered the field only briefly.
General Bibliography of Onychophora, 1826-2000.pdf
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