bizarre looking creatures are
GIANT RED VELVET MITES
and are possibly the strangest animals I've
ever kept, which is really saying something given my
animal collection past and present!
many people might think of mites as being pest
animals (the house dust mite for example being
responsible for allergies) many mites are actually
very useful to us and to the environment. Many
species are useful decomposers of forest leaf litter
much like earthworms, woodlice and springtails,
whereas some species of predatory mites are
deliberately spread on arable farmland to control
pest species such as aphids! Still others are
used specifically by French and German cheese makers
to refine the taste of their cheeses!
species, like most mites, is certainly harmless to
humans and they are exquisitely beautiful - their
bodies are soft and covered in small hair-like
structures which make them appear to be made of red
velvet, hence their common name!
are currently about 50,000 known species of mites
but scientists believe that this number might only
represent 5% of the total species in the world.
Part of the problem is that most mites are no longer
than one millimetre in length, whereas these giant
red velvet mites are quite ENORMOUS as mites go,
measuring in at more than a whopping half an
inch or 12 - 15 mm!
particular species lives in semi-desert areas of
northern and central India and is known by many
other names including the 'rain mite', because they
are only seen for a few weeks a year in the early
part of the monsoon season. After the early
rains, massive numbers of them will come to the
surface of the soils in which they spend the vast
majority of their lives and then they will disappear
underground again a few weeks later until the same
time the next year! Amazing.
vivid red colouration of the velvet mites acts as a
warning to potential predators that they taste
unpleasant to eat and as such they have very few
natural enemies, the main one being other velvet
mites as they are known to be cannibalistic if food
is scarce! If they do feel threatened they
fold their legs underneath their bodies to protect
them, before unfolding them and walking away when
they sense that the danger has passed. When they
fold their legs underneath themselves they look a
bit like a bright red raisin!!
mites may not be everybody's idea of a cute animal I
have to say that I have grown very fond of these
velvet mites very early on in my time keeping them.
I also genuinely believe that they are one of the
most attractive animals I have ever had the
privilege of keeping here, as well as undoubtedly
one of the strangest!