A fabulous feathered mite

September 11, 2013 • 11:20 am

by Matthew Cobb

Jerry doesn’t “get” Twitter. He thinks it’s full of people shouting at the TV or ranting abuse at “celebrities” or telling the world about the coffee they are drinking. And so it is. But it’s also full of the most magical things. Here’s something that popped up in my Twitter feed: I give you Eatoniana plumipes, photographed by Harry Smit:


The highly elongated fourth pair of legs on this weird beast – which is quite hefty for a mite – have these strange feather-like hairs. What on earth might they be for? The original tweeter,Wayne Knee (@whknee), suggested they might be for defence. Other options might be that they release a pheromone (in which case you’d predict that they’d be sex-limited, probably on females), or that they are in some way involved in attracting a host if the mite is parasitic. That suggestion is perhaps indicated by this photo taken by Joaquín Ramírez in Spain (from here).

On the other hand, those long legs seem to make life difficult, as suggested in this photo by Josep Mari Solé from the fabulous Spanish site biodiversidadvirtual. (Josep understandably says his photo “es propiedad de su autor y no puede ser utilizada sin su consentimiento” – I am contacting him to get his approval – he has a few others of this species, so head over there to see; you don’t need to know Spanish!).

The Encyclopedia of Life site helpfully says “No facts are available for Eatoniana plumipes in the Encyclopedia of Life.”

This one was found on a beach in Corsica by Luc Gizart:

Luc Gizart - réf. 102476 (709 x 709 pixels, 141 ko)

So, come on arachnologists. What on earth are those hairs for?

h/t Morgan Jackson (@BioInFocus)

30 thoughts on “A fabulous feathered mite

  1. But it’s also full of the most magical things.

    And we appreciate your efforts to bring them to the attention of us beknighted non-tweeters.

  2. How come comments are closed for the Hitch Bar article?

    Maybe these are extra large “dust mites” and those are dust sweepers.

  3. I suppose they might be something like butterfly “eye-spots” to confuse predators. But actually they remind me more of dandelion seeds – might they be used for wind-assisted dispersal?

  4. I like the pheromone idea, only it would work if this mite is a male, and the legs are used to detect pheromones from the female, rather like the extra feathery antennae of male moths.

  5. Adult mites of this family are predators, while the larvae are parasitic, primarily on arthropods. This mite looks just like most members of the Erythraeidae family, with the exception of the feathery legs. There is a chance that these mites are haplo-diploid, where the males are haploid, so reproduction wouldn’t follow the same sort of fervor as you see in diplo-diploid systems. I could imagine these mites using these feathery legs to distract predators from their main body. A similar behaviour is seen in the peacock mites, Tuckerellidae http://www.sel.barc.usda.gov/acari/content/tuck1.html

  6. I was about to say “don’t insects usually detect pheromones with their antennae?” Then I realised “Mites. Doh! Not insects.”
    But the question still may be valid – don’t spiders, mites and scorpions still concentrate their sensory apparatus at one end, where possible?

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