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Onychophora (ŏnˌəkŏfˈərə) [key], small phylum with about 70 species of animals that are often called "missing links" between annelids (phylum Annelida) and arthropods (phylum Arthropoda). The thin cuticle and wormlike form of onychophorans are reminiscent of annelids, while the tracheal system and details of embryonic development foreshadow similar developments in arthropods. The unsegmented, stumpy legs with arthropodlike claws are unique. Onychophorans live inconspicuously in surface litter and under fallen logs, where humidity is high and protection against drying is greatest. Ancient onychophorans were marine. Modern species live in widely scattered wet, warm to temperate habitats in South Africa, Central America, and New Zealand, suggesting a much wider distribution of terrestrial forms in the past. The 10 genera are often referred to collectively as Peripatus.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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