A new giant egg-laying onychophoran (Peripatopsidae) reveals evolutionary and biogeographical aspects of Australian velvet worms
Representatives of Ooperipatellus (Peripatopsidae) are among the smallest onychophorans known, commonly varying between 10 and 20 mm in length. Herein, we present a peculiar new species of Ooperipatellus from Tasmania that can exceed twice the length of other representatives of this taxon. Ooperipatellus nickmayerisp. nov. is comprehensively described based on morphological, molecular, karyological and slime protein profile data. Morphological analyses expose a set of novel features in this species, including a swollen area covered with a modified integument on the posterior border of the male genital pad, modified papillae on the female ovipositor and the presence of pseudoplicae in the dorsal integument. The evolutionary significance of pseudoplicae remains unclear, but similarities between O. nickmayerisp. nov. and Plicatoperipatus jamaicensis, the only species from which these structures were previously known, suggest they evolved due to functional constraints of the onychophoran integument. Our karyological investigation further revealed that the new species has the largest karyotype known within Peripatopsidae (2n = 50, XY). Finally, the results of our molecular phylogenetic analyses support the recognition of O. nickmayerisp. nov. and shed light on previously unclear aspects of the biogeographical history of Ooperipatellus in Southern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.