Pheromonally mediated colonization patterns in the velvet worm Euperipatoides rowelli (Onychophora)


*All correspondence to: D. M. Rowell


We demonstrate that the males of the peripatopsid Euperipatoides rowelli secrete a pheromone from crural papillae, which acts as an attractant to both males and females of the species. Patterns of colonization of decomposing logs and differences in sex ratio between incipient vs established populations indicate that males are the initial dispersers and colonizers, finding suitable log habitats in an exploratory fashion, while females subsequently colonize logs. This results in a disproportionately high frequency of males in newly colonized logs, followed by a gradual increase in female proportion. We argue that females use the aggregating pheromone secreted by males to target appropriate rotting log microhabitats, resulting in a clumped distribution of females compared to a more random distribution for males among recently colonized logs. This mode of colonization reduces the time that animals, especially females, spend outside the safety of suitable logs, and the risk-taking strategy of male exploration may explain the marked sex ratio bias in favour of females in the population. Rapid and non-random dispersal may also account for the contradictory evidence of unexpectedly high rates of colonization of new logs, yet a paucity of animals in leaf litter samples. The possibility that pheromone trails play a part in the dispersal process is discussed.