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Red Velvet Mite: Facts, Life Cycle & Diet

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

The red velvet mite is a fascinating and strange creature. From its mating rituals to its parasitic habits, it is a unique and unusual animal. This lesson will explore its life cycle and diet.

Red Velvet Mite Defined

There's red velvet cake. There's a red velvet carpet. And there's even a South Korean band called Red Velvet. But a red velvet mite? Yep, there's one of those, too. The red velvet mite is a small predatory arachnid belonging to the Trombidiidae family. There are thousands of species of red velvet mite and they can be found all over the world, from Canada to Africa. They come in a wide range of sizes, from about the size of a pinhead to around two centimeters in length.

A close-up image of a red velvet mite
Red velvet mite

Chances are you haven't heard of red velvet mites, but after this lesson you won't be able to get them out of your head. From their red velvet beanbag appearance to their bizarre mating habits, they are certainly memorable. Let's begin with their life cycle.

Red Velvet Mite Life Cycle

Remember, there are over a thousand red velvet mite species, so this is a general overview. We will start with the eggs and end with adults.

Eggs and Pre-Larvae

The story of the red velvet mite begins with the eggs, which are laid in clumps of 60 to 100,000 (depending upon the species) in wet soil. After about 2 months, the eggs hatch and red velvet mite pre-larvae appear. The pre-larval stage doesn't last long (one to three days), and during this time the red velvet mite doesn't do much. It just hangs around in the general region where it hatched.

Larvae

The larvae look different from the adults, having six legs versus eight. And now the real horror begins.... Each larva will find an insect, climb on its back, drill a hole through its body and then begin to drink the poor insect's blood (which is called hemolymph). The insects can still move around, and the little parasitic red velvet larvae will end up far away from where they originally hatched.

Protonymph

After a larva gets its fill (usually about two weeks), it will detach and enter the protonymph stage. During this time, the red velvet mite goes dormant and is surrounded by a cuticle (kind of like a pupa) as it develops further.

Deutonymph

After the mite comes out of its protective cuticle it has eight legs, and it is now called a deutonymph. The deutonymphs are predatory and spend their time eating everything they can.

Tritonymph

The mite is called a tritonymph in the final stage before adulthood. Like the protonymph stage, this is time of dormancy where the mite doesn't eat or move.

Adult

Finally, the mite enters the adult stage. Adult mites are inactive much of the year but come out after it rains, which has earned them the nickname of ''rain bugs.'' For example, in Arizona red velvet mites appear during the rainy season, which overlaps with an increase of prey animals like ants and termites. During that time the mites feed and mate, but once the rainy season is over they go underground and hang out until the rains return.

And now for the best part: red velvet mite mating. The process begins with a male building a ''love garden'' by placing a sperm packet (called a spermatophore) on grass and twigs. He will also construct a trail out of silk leading to the love garden, where he will wait until a female mite walks by.

At this point he may dance for her. You might be imagining a red velvet mite with some sweet moves. Unfortunately, if he dances at all, his moves are pretty simple. If she's into him, she traverses the trail into the love garden and then will sit on a sperm packet, thus fertilizing her eggs.

Occasionally, a male will find another male's love garden, and not liking the competition, will destroy it, leaving his own sperm packets all over the trail.

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