Studies of embryonic development and the reproductive cycle in ovoviviparous Australian Onychophora (Peripatopsidae)


  • Muriel H. Walker,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, U.K.
      * All correspondence to: M. H. Walker. E-mail:
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Noel N. Tait

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney 2109, New South Wales, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author

* All correspondence to: M. H. Walker. E-mail:


Embryos of four ovoviviparous species of Australian onychophorans were examined to establish the process of their development, their reproductive cycle and to estimate the gestation period. The process of development is the same in all four species with, in the early embryo, segment halves separated by broad bands of extra-embryonic ectoderm and the embryos growing by the posterior addition of segments. Seven developmental stages (I–VII) can be clearly identified from external morphology. Analysis of the developmental stages of the embryos present in females collected throughout a calendar year has allowed estimation of the time taken for each developmental stage and demonstrated that there is an annual reproductive cycle with a total gestation period of c. 12 months. Stages I and VII are prolonged, the latter related to the late completion of midgut development. The simultaneous presence of stage I and stage VII embryos at certain times of year indicates an overlap of generations within the uteri, which is more extensive for some species than others. As the stage VII embryos of one cohort complete their development, enlarged oocytes are released from the ovaries to become fertilized as they pass the seminal receptacles and enter the uteri to start their embryonic development to form the next cohort. Cephalofovea clandestina, Phallocephale tallagandensis and Ruhbergia bifalcata have head structures in males, Euperipatoides rowelli does not. The presence of embryos at all times of year in the uteri of mature females has implications for mating and sperm storage that are discussed.