by Piter Kehoma Boll
While walking through an Indian market, you may end up finding something like this being sold as food:
It may look as some sort of crispy seed or dried fruit, some local chips, maybe? But they are actually giant mites… edible mites! They are used in India as a medicine, especially to treat paralysis and allegedly to increase sexual drive, a reason for the popular expression “Indian Viagra”.
But this edible arachnids are actually quite cute when alive. Known cientifically as Trombidium grandissimum and popularly as giant red velvet mite, they are fluffy like a piece of velvet, have a strong red color and reach up to 2 cm in length, a record for mites, which usually measure way less than a milimeter.
As adults, the giant red velvet mites live freely and prey on small animals, mainly insects, and their eggs. The larvae, on the other hand, start their life as a parasite, attaching themselves to another invertebrate, usually an insect, but sometimes an arachnid, and suck their hemolymph (“blood”). Later, this parasitic larva develops into a free-living nymph that abandons the host and begins to live more like an adult.
The genus Trombidium has many species in the Palearctic Ecozone, so if you are wandering in a forest in Europe or Asia, you may find the giant red velvet mite or one of its cousins.
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Southcott, R. V. 1986. Studies on the taxonomy and biology of the subfamily Trombidiinae (Acarina: Trombidiidae) with a critical revision of the genera. Australian Journal of Zoology, 123: 1-116.
Wikipedia. Trombidium. Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trombidium>. Access on July 21, 2016.
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