Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Velvet Mites.

(Photo by Nile Oldham)

Over the weekend, my parents and sister saw these wee velvet mites munching away on a brown chunk of something. And they sent me this wonderful picture. I've always found little clusters of these tiny arachnids to be very charming--their velvety surface is quite lovely, and they are such a beautiful, vivid color. I remember as a little kid seeing tiny specks of deep red, no bigger than a period in a book, scurrying across granite boulders on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee when I would take breaks from swimming.

Velvet mites have interesting lives. They hatch from eggs as hexapod larvae and are parasitic; they attach themselves to larger arthropods and suck their juices. I have frequently seen these parasitic babies hanging off of daddy-long-legs. Then they go through several nymphal stages, during which they get their eight legs and become ground hunters, eating other mites and eggs. When they finally become adults they are capable of reproducing. Males engage in a fancy mating display, where they release sperm onto tiny silk stalks (imagine golf balls on tees) and then weave silken trails to lead their lady friends to the sperm.

Velvet mites are chelicerates (they have claws that serve as mouthparts), which makes them close relatives of scorpions, ticks, spiders and horseshoe crabs.

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