The Mighty Mites


The Acari or Mites are an unusual and fascinating order of arthropods, they can be found in all over the planet and in every habitat from the sea, to fresh water, to the soil (where they can be very common, amounting to 7% of all the invertebrate biomass of some soils), as well as on animals and plants. There are 30 000 described species in over 1 700 genera and the actual number is probably much more than this.

Mites are a very successful life form and have been around for some time, the earliest known fossil Mites date from the early Devonian period (Protoacarus crani) 376 to 379 million years ago.



Mites are members of the Arthropod class Chelicerata and as such are related to spiders, this is most easily seen in their reduced obvious body parts, (most Mites appear to have a single body unit {the Idiosoma} with a head {the Gnathosoma} at one end) and the fact that in most juvenile forms and all adult forms they have eight legs.

The Subclass Acari is divided into 2 Superorders containing a total of 7 Orders between them. Note that the taxonomy of the Acari is un revision and a number of classification schemes exist.

Superorder Actinotrichida
Order Prostigmata
Order Astigmata
Order Oribatida
Superorder Anactinotrichida
Order Notostigmata
Order Holothyrida
Order Ixodida
Order Mesostigmata

Life Cycle

A Mite starts its life as an egg, it then passes through some, or all of the following life stages (called stases in mites) a prelarva (which has no mouth or legs and does not feed or move from inside the eggshell), a larva which is hexapod (has six legs), three nymphal stages called 'protonymph' 'deuteronymph' and tritonymph before becoming an adult, only the larval stage is hexapod the rest are octopod (having eight legs. For example the Astigmata tend to go through all 6 stases but the prelarva and the deuteronymph are non-feeding, the deuteronymph being a dispersal stage with special adaptations for 'hitch-hiking (see below) in many species; while the Ticks (Ixodida) pass through only three stases.


Some Mites are unusual in that they can take in and digest solid food, (the only members of the Chelicerata which can) though most only feed on liquids i.e. plant or animal body fluids. Many species are thus responsible for either the formation of galls in plants or the transmission of disease in both plants and larger animals, in fact the Mites, particularly the Ticks transmit more diseases than any other comparable invertebrate group. In Europe today Ticks are notorious for the transmission of the potentially fatal 'Limes Disease'. Other mites cause mange and pruritus while Dust Mites are responsible for 'atopic asthma' and 'rhinitus' through the presence of allergens in their faecal pellets.



Mites are regular balloonists and have been recorded as high up in the air as 3 000 metres above sea level.They can go ballooning in two ways, 1) using a thread similar to spiders, but whereas a spider/ling lets its ballooning silk be drawn out from its spinnerets by the passing breeze, the mite hangs from its thread until it is long enough for the wind to tear it and the Mite away from the original support. 2) Without a thread, some Mites are so light that all they have to do to go flying is to find an open space and let go of the earth, some raise either their front or back legs into the air to help themselves take off.


Hitch-hiking, called 'Phoresy' is by far the most common means of dispersal employed by mites, with a wide range of other animals being used by the Mites to find new homes, in some cases the Mite will feed from its transport during the journey but in most cases the 'phoretic host' suffers no harm. Some other invertebrates can carry an awful lot of mites, in 1959 a man called Hyatt recorded 488 Mites on a single Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius), these were:-

Picture Parade

Anystis sp (25K JPG) this picture was kindly supplied by Dr Zhi-qiang Zhang of the International Institute of Entomology.

Hay Mites Proposed As A Vector For BSE

WESTPORT, Apr 19 (Reuters) - The infectious particle that causes scrapie, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has been found in hay mites on Icelandic farms that house sheep with scrapie.

Dr. Henry Wisniewski, of the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Staten Island, New York, reports the finding in a letter in Saturday's edition of The Lancet. "Its possible," he concludes, "...that hay mites acting as a vector and/or reservoir have played a part in the continuing occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the UK after the ban on the use of sheep and cattle products for cattle food."
Lancet 1996;347:114.




Book Reviews

Mites: Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour, by David Walters and Heather Proctor
Provisional Atlas of the ticks (Ixoidea) of British Isles. , by K. P. Martyn

Mites on the Web


Welcome to the Acarology WWW home page
The Acarological Society of Japan
The Tree of Life, cladistic taxonomy of Mites
Dust mites
The Tick Research Lab
Some Still images and some movies of Ticks

Mites and Bees

Bees and Mites
Two spotted spider mite

Other Mites Besides Spider Mites

Bird & Mammal Mites
Mites Annoying Humans
Controlling Mites In The Kitchen
Maple Gall Mites Factsheet
Biological Control of Mites in The Midwest
Eriophyid Mites
Dust Mites?
Gall mites

Spider Mites

Twospotted spider mite: Tetranychus urticae
Spider mites on Cherries
Spider Mites
Spider Mites, in Home & Landscape
Spider Mites Factsheet
Spider mites and Corn
Mites on seedling cotton



Have You Seen The Other Earthlife Web Chapters
The Home Page of the Fish The Birds Home Page The Insects Home Page The Mammals Home Page The Prokaryotes Home Page The Lichens Home Page

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This page was designed and written by Mr Gordon Ramel



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