Saturday, November 08, 2008

... upon his back to bite 'im

A week or so ago, I was poking at an old log on the hillside above Kwomais Point, looking for spots of yellow slime mold, and a big, red beetle ran out from beneath it. He came home with me, in a cosy plastic bag.

I housed him with a handful of log bits in a lidded plastic bowl. He had company; the wood swarmed with tiny flies, assorted miniscule beetles, and at least one sowbug.

And I tried to get a decent photo of him.

He wasn't co-operating; he never stopped running, not even when I put him down for a nap in the fridge. I did my best, but most of the photos were of a blurred backside or the last segment of a leg. I gave up and put the whole container outside, in the cool. When I had time, I would try again.

Out of a hundred or so photos, some must turn out. This did.

Later that evening, I was sorting the photos, when I noticed something about them. Look at that last one, zooming in:

Do you see it?
Big fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so, ad infinitum.
I checked all the photos; there were three, maybe four of these along for the ride. Mites of some sort.

It's been a hectic week; I didn't check on Big Red, as I was calling him, until this evening. Unfortunately, in the interim, he has died. Sorry about that, Red; I should have let you go free last week.

But at least I could get a good look at his face, which he wasn't allowing before. I moved him to the upturned lid and lowered the light over him. A bunch of little red specks, fast-moving specks, came with him. Oh. The mites; I had forgotten.

Poor, dead Big Red, overrun with hungry parasites.

The mites. Spider-like, but with only 3 pair of legs.*

Red-brown waistcoat, cinched with a white belt, white tail end.

The rest of the community in the plastic bowl seemed happy and busy, and I am sleepy. So Big Red and his mites went back among them; I will keep an eye on things and see what happens. Will the mites multiply? Leave him a shell only? Fill him with eggs? Go away and leave him to rot? Will those yellow slime molds develop here? Oh, the possibilities!

And I got that face shot: look at these jaws!

And four little spoons to hold his food. Handy.

*Update: Christopher Taylor to the rescue again! (See comments) The mites have 4 pairs of legs, not 3, as I said. The front ones are held up, like antennae. (The better to grab you with, my dear.)


  1. That's four pairs of legs on the mite in the photo. Mites don't have antennae - what look like antennae in the photo are the first pair of legs.

    Though mites actually do have only three pairs of legs when they first hatch out - the fourth pair doesn't grow until they approach maturity.

  2. Thanks, Christopher.

    Narsty, deceptive little beasts, though; why couldn't they use their legs for walking, like normal people?


    I just re-read the entire section on mites and ticks in my field guide (Audubon). 7 little pages, only, and 3 photos of mites. It wasn't very helpful.

    So I am wondering; in my week-old photos, before I deleted all the fuzzy ones, I found several with those two front legs waving from behind a curve of the beetle back. Would that mean that they were adults, already? Or do the larvae also carry whatever front legs they have upright like antennae?

    How long do these critters live?


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