Hello all, I have some very exciting news! I have been able to bring a brand new invertebrate into the hands of private US breeders for the very first time; Epiperipatus barbadensis, or the Barbados Brown Velvet Worm! I am super stoked to have received these. If you are wondering how in the world these made it to the US, let me tell the story…
Back in October of 2018, I was perusing Arachnoboards like I often do, and I came across this awesome thread started by Mackenzie Harrison (or @AbraxasComplex as he is known) on his velvet worm vivarium. I was immediately blown away by the incredible vivarium, but even more so by the creatures that were living inside it; Epiperipatus barbadensis, or Barbados Brown Velvet Worms!
Prior to seeing this thread, I had only known velvet worms existed from a very short bit in which they appeared in a graphic novel (about insects, coincidentally), but I never researched them further. However, as soon as I saw these on Arachnoboards I made sure to claim a spot on the not-yet-formed waiting list for these with a few other enthusiasts. One slight problem however: Mackenzie was in Canada. Seeing this, me and two other enthusiasts, M.S AKA @schmiggle (M.S are his initials, as per his request) and Carter AKA @Cresto on Arachnoboards created an email thread between us and started researching the legality of these incredible creatures. Not long after we we’re delighted to find that Epiperipatus barbadensis is completely legal to import and keep in the US! The USDA, USFWS, and APHIS had no problem with these, so we started talking with Mackenzie about importing and costs. Carter and M.S did most of the footwork in garnering information, and I am incredibly grateful for their support and help. Unfortunately, the original price for velvet worms was much higher than we had been let on to believe, so in February-March of 2019 things kind of dropped off.
However, in April I came across a few more people wondering about the legality of keeping/importing velvet worms in(to) the U.S. I talked with Carter and M.S about sending them the info we had already found. They agreed, and a few months later I started gathering email addresses from those interested in joining the Velvet Worm Club of the USA, which was the semi-official name I gave to the loose assemblage of enthusiasts interested in velvet worms. I started an email thread between all of us, as well as Mackenzie, and soon after we started having some more serious conversations about pricing and importing.
Before this however, in July, I had been talking with Mackenzie about possibly importing some other invertebrates with another friend. That fell through, but in the process I discovered the price on the Epiperipatus barbadensis had dropped considerably. Ecstatic, I sent a message to Carter and M.S about the price drop, and that was when (in August) we started bringing other velvet worm lovers into the club and started working on the finer details of importing.
The only catch was that the easiest way to get the velvet worms from Canada legally was to go through a broker. We didn’t know much about brokers, but Mackenzie suggested we use Reptile Express, which not only takes care of the legal issues at the border, but also has an agreement with FedEx to overnight shipments of live reptiles/invertebrates through them. Mackenzie even offered to be our intermediary between Reptile Express and us since he had worked with them before on an export to Europe, which made our lives much easier. Thanks Mackenzie!
Now, with 8 of us spread across the US in on the import, shipping wasn’t exactly going to be cheap to send the velvet worms to each person individually, at least not with Reptile Express. While brainstorming, we discussed sending the velvet worms to maybe one or two trusted people within the club, who would then ship out to each person via overnight shipping; this would help keep our import costs down. After some more discussion, we decided this would be the best option. However, with 8 people spread so wide across the US, we decided on two shippers, one for the West Coast and another for the East Coast. I was the only person on the West Coast with shipping experience who was available at the time, so I volunteered to have part of the import delivered to me and then send it on to 3 other people.
With the shipping details taken care of and all our payments in, the date the package was to be sent to Reptile Express was set for September 25th. It would then be flown into the US, inspected, rerouted, and delivered to the two intermediary shippers on the 26th. The other shipper and I then shipped out the majority of packages via overnight mail on the 27th, except where bad weather required the packages to be held for a few days. By the 30th, everything had been delivered. All the while the velvet worms did fantastically! They ship very well, and to my knowledge there were no losses. I took great care, with much help from my brother, who is amazing at packing things, to ship them out with the utmost care however. Thank God for styrofoam insulation!
I received my 3 baby velvet worms about 1″ long and got them into their cage on the 26th, because I was one of the intermediate shippers and therefore received them early. Insofar they seem to have done very well, but they are exceedingly secretive; I have only seen them twice since I’ve received them! Food continues to disappear, however, so I’m hoping they are feeding and growing. With good care and a lot of prayer, I will hopefully have a colony of these established in a few years, and then be able to continue to spread these amazing creatures amongst enthusiasts in the US invertebrate hobby. Pictures below!
The substrate is made up of ABG soil with a New Zealand Sphagnum moss covering portions of the substrate. Two medium pieces of cork bark provide hides. I mist regularly in the evening to keep the humidity up and stimulate evening activity, as Epiperipatus barbadensis seems to be more active in the evening after it rains. I keep the temperature up by placing the enclosure next to my Rosy Boa cage which has a heat mat under it, as these fascinating creatures prefer a temperature in between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Lastly, I feed small crickets every two weeks, as well as medium Porcellionides pruinosus “Powder Blue” isopods in between the cricket meals.
And those are my new velvet worms! If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and ask. I have also attached Mackenzie’s care sheet for this species for those who would like to know more.
And last but certainly not least, I want to give a huge shoutout to those who helped make this happen; thank you to Carter and M.S for getting the ball rolling in the early days of our velvet worm fascination; thank you to Mackenzie for being so incredibly helpful all the way through the process (he smoothed out all the problems for us and made sure each velvet worm arrived safely even though it was an international operation!); thank you to those who already had this species and contributed to the pool of husbandry knowledge; and thank you to each and everyone who helped bring these into the US by ordering some; I couldn’t have done this without you guys!
That’ll do it for now; I’ll see ya next time!