More about the biology of a parasitoid mite

Following Monday’s blog post, we continue to explore the life of  Macrodinychus mites that parasitize an invasive ant species in Mexico, the Longhorn crazy ant. Today Dr. Hans Klompen shares some of the details of the mite’s life cycle that he has discovered with us.

Here is an image of two Macrodinychus larvae that were found attached to an ant pupa. We had to magnify the ant 400 times to make the mites visible. The larvae are tiny, even in mite-standards, while the adults are large, 1 mm or more in length.

What do the larvae and nymphs look like?

 

Tell us a little bit more about the biology of these mites, e.g. how does the female give birth to young?

 

How do the mites disperse to new hosts?

 

Why is this research important?

 

What do you think?  Can/should these mites be used to control invasive ant species?
We would like to hear from you – please leave a comment.

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Reference:

Image of mite larvae on appendages and gravid female from
Krantz, G. W., Gómez, L. A., González, V. E., & Morales-Malacara, J. B. (2007). Parasitism in the Uropodina: a case history from Colombia. In Acarology XI: Proceedings of the International Congress (pp. 29-38).

other images from
Lachaud, J. P., Klompen, H., & Pérez-Lachaud, G. (2016). Macrodinychus mites as parasitoids of invasive ants: an overlooked parasitic association. Scientific Reports, 6.
Dr. Hans Klompen, Professor EEOBiology at OSUAbout the Author: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection.

Mites as parasitoids of invasive ants

Another post in our series Explaining Science – bringing scientific discoveries focused around biodiversity to your living room.


Ants are fascinating creatures, often living in large colonies. Some of you may be familiar with this behavior as a  nuisance in your home, e.g. with carpenter ants or fire ants. Ant biology and their way of social living fascinates researchers, and some of the ants’ behavior may be quite similar to what we see in our societies. Just recently a study reported how Gene-Modified Ants Shed Light on How Societies Are Organized. But did you know that these small ants can themselves become hosts for even smaller animals? Mites, in particular species in the genus Macrodinychus, have evolved to parasitize ants. They feast on the content of ant pupae, the larval stages of ants, to nourish their own development. “Vampire mites” is what Dr. Hans Klompen, acarologist and Professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, calls them. By the way, the ant species these mites parasitize is called Longhorn crazy ant, an invasive ant species with a cool name.

Listen to an interview with Dr. Klompen about his recent publication in Scientific Reports “Macrodinychus mites as parasitoids of invasive ants: an overlooked parasitic association” and learn about “a bizarre little group of mites”” that he studies.

How does one find out about mites, often microscopical creatures, living on ants, in particular when you are a researcher based in Ohio while the ants live mainly in the tropics?

One needs good collaborators at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Gabriela Perez-Lachaud and Jean-Paul Lachaud, who study ants and noticed mites parasitizing their study subjects.

How did the project of describing a new mite species evolve into more?

 

Macrodinychus multispinosus Sellnick larva

Macrodinychus multispinosus Sellnick larva

How often do these mites attack ants and which species of ants?

Longhorn crazy ant

Longhorn crazy ant, the host
(c) The photographer and www.antweb.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

 

 

Do the mites attack all different colonies of ants?

 

So what do we know about the life history of this mite whose developmental stages, its nymphs, feast on ant pupae? Find out more results from Dr. Klompen’s research on these mites in Friday’s post!

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Terms you may want to familiarize yourself with:

Mites are small arthropods, closely related spiders and scorpions, with two body regions, no antennae, and four pairs of legs as adults.

The life cycle of these mites is  composed of five active stages: egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, and adult

ventral – the underside of an animal, the belly

dorsal – the upper side of an animal, the back

 

Reference:

Lachaud, J. P., Klompen, H., & Pérez-Lachaud, G. (2016). Macrodinychus mites as parasitoids of invasive ants: an overlooked parasitic association. Scientific Reports, 6.
Dr. Hans Klompen, Professor EEOBiology at OSUAbout the Author: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection.
 *** We would like to hear from you – please leave a comment ***

more itchy noses – ticks and lemurs

As a follow-up to my previous post, here is another odd case involving mites and noses.  Most of the mites mentioned in the last post are small, but Dr. Randall Junge, Dept. of Animal Health at the Columbus Zoo, and collaborators found ticks in the noses of some wild lemurs (sifaka, Propithecus diadema) in Madagascar.

diademed sifaka Propithecus diadema

diademed sifaka Propithecus diadema

Ticks in noses of great apes, and even one case of a tick in the nose of a human, had been reported before, but it seemed to be relatively rare.  This was not.  The majority of sifakas at one site had one or more ticks in their noses, and all of these ticks were males of Haemaphysalis lemuris.  Females and nymphs of that species are found on the sifakas, but never in the nose.  Members of the other tick species Ixodes lemuris regularly parasitizing these sifakas have never been found in the nose either.

The numbers were also impressive.  The average number per nose was about 7-8, but our record holder had 31 ticks, which makes one wonder how the host could even breathe.

Of course male ticks do not feed a lot, so damage in terms of feeding should be limited.

Haemaphysalis lemuris males in nose Propithecus diadema (photo Lydia Green)

Haemaphysalis lemuris males in nose Propithecus diadema (photo Lydia Green)

It is interesting to speculate on why we see this behavior. One possibility has to do with finding mates.  Male ticks have to search their host for available females, and attaching in the nose might be a good strategy to find females on other sifakas in the group.  After all, these lemurs do sniff each other a lot, bringing noses and bodies in close contact.  At this point we have no evidence for that idea, and we do not even know if this phenomenon is widespread or largely limited in the one population studied.  As so often, one odd observation triggers many more questions.  The phenomenon was sufficiently weird that it got included in a short paper on ectoparasites of diademed sifakas published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.  All collected specimens have been archived in the OSU Acarology collection, so they are available for any future researcher who wants to dive deeper into noses.

As a final note, the only record of a mite in a human nose is the one mentioned above, a single tick in a single human. Of all the things to worry about, this is not a major one.

About the Author: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection.

Reference:

Klompen, H., Junge, R. E., & Williams, C. V. (2015). Ectoparasites of Propithecus diadema (Primates: Indriidae) with notes on unusual attachment site selection by Haemaphysalis lemuris (Parasitiformes: Ixodidae). Journal of medical entomology, tjv032.

Itchy noses – a perfect ecosystem for mites & ticks?

Mites on occasion have become extreme specialists in selecting the places where they live. Take the noses of vertebrates. It may not seem much, but a wide variety of mites call it home. Mites can do different things while in the nose. Rhinoseius and some Proctolaelaps species use hummingbird noses to move from flower to flower.

hummingbird sticking bill into red flower

Hummingbird sticking its “nose” into a flower (did you know that the nostrils of birds are located at the base of the bill?)

The mites race up or down the bill when the bird is feeding to get in or out of the nose as they move between flowers. Nice and fast transportation but it can be tricky. If a male ends up in a flower already occupied by males of a different species they may get attacked and killed. As always make sure you get off at the right bus stop.

Dispersal is also the goal for some Halarachnidae living in seals. They live most of their lives in the lungs, but larvae will crawl up into the nose and get dispersed by sneezing. It is not sure whether they irritate the nose and make the seals sneeze or whether they just take advantage of seal sneezing.  This form of dispersal is of course a bit random.  For example, a paper from 1985 described a case where an ophthalmologist recovered a halarachnid mite from the eye of a patient with severe eye discomfort.  The man had been watching the walrus exhibit at Sea World.  Moral of the story: be aware of flying debris when visiting the seal exhibit.

Most nose-inhabiting mites are true parasites. Some chiggers (Trombiculidae) are found only in noses. So do most species of Gastronyssidae, although I have collected some skating around on the eyeball of fruitbats, and 1-2 others appear exclusive to the stomach of such bats. In birds we sometimes see a split in microhabitat: Rhinonyssidae live in the slimy parts of the nostrils, Ereynetidae skate on top of the slime, and Turbinoptidae live in the dryer section further down.

rhinonyssid mite from nose of pigeon

Rhinonyssid mite from nose of pigeon

Noses are true ecosystems.

 

About the Author: Dr. Hans Klompen is professor in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology and director of the Ohio State University Acarology Collection.

 

Reference:

Webb, J.P., Jr., Furman, D.P. & Wang, S. (1985) A unique case of human ophthalmic acariasis caused by Orthohalarachne attenuata (Banks, 1910) (Acari: Halarachnidae). Journal of Parasitology, 71 (3), 388-389.