Acariformes: Characteristics, Morphology & Taxonomy

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Mites are small and versatile creatures that are found just about everywhere on Earth. In this lesson, learn about the characteristics, morphology, and taxonomy of a specific superorder of mites, the Acariformes.

Who Are the Acari?

There are lots of animals on Earth that have relationships that may surprise you. For example, did you know that spiders and scorpions are related? Or that they are both related to ticks and mites?

All four animals, as well as others like daddy longlegs, belong to the class Arachnida, which is in the largest and most diverse animal phylum, Arthropoda. The arachnids have some distinct features that identify them, such as their four pairs of legs and two body segments (insects have only three pairs of legs and have 3 body segments).

But mites and ticks are so diverse that they form their own sub-class of Arachnida called Acari. And within this sub-division are three superorders: Parasitiformes, Opilioacariformes, and the topic of this lesson, Acariformes.

Who Are the Acariformes?

Acariformes are mites, and they are the most diverse group of Acari, with more than 30,000 known species (but possibly as many as 900,000 total species) in over 300 described families. These mites can be found pretty much everywhere. From hot springs, to leaves, to behind your cat's ears, acariform mites really are quite versatile.

Chiggers, which caused these bite marks, are just one of the many pesky acariform mites
chigger bites

Unfortunately, you are probably already familiar with some of the acariforms because dust mites, chiggers, scabies, and other predators and parasites belong to this group. But acariforms also have environmental impacts. Some eat detritus, which is dead or decaying material, and others are well-known and destructive crop pests. Some acariforms are even disease vectors, and others still are used for weed control.

Characteristics of Acariformes

Typical of mites, acariforms have eight legs on only one true body segment, despite the fact that their mouthparts look like a separate segment. They range in size from less than 1mm - 10mm, and have numerous setae (bristle-like structures) that are modified sensory organs. This is one way to tell them apart from the other two superorders, where setae is not found.

Additionally, acariforms also have actinochitin, which is an optically active layer of chitin on their setae that is also not found in other mites (remember that chitin is a major component of the exoskeletons of insects and other arthropods). Some setae, which are called trichobothria, are specialized so that they can sense vibrations and air currents. Again, this is unique to the Acariformes mites.

Acariformes, like this tiny dust mite, have only one true body segment
dust mite

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