Field of Science

On a Wing and a Mite

Dorsal and ventral views of Monogalumnella neotricha, with legs removed. Figures from Balogh & Balogh (1992).

In a previous post, I introduced you all to the oribatid mites. Oribatids come in a wide range of varieties, and the animal in the figures above is a member of the oribatid family Galumnellidae. Galumnellids belong to a group of oribatids, the galumnoids, marked by their well-developed pteromorphs: the roughly triangular structures at either side of the front of the body. Many oribatids have pteromorphs developed to a greater or lesser degree, but the pteromorphs of galumnoids are particularly noteworthy for their size and for the development of a hinge between the pteromorph and the main body, so that the pteromorph can be folded down to cover the legs for protection (other species have the pteromorphs as fixed outgrowths of the body). The name 'pteromorph', of course, means 'wing-shaped', and you can readily find cases where galumnoids have been referred to as 'winged mites' (especially in older publications). Woodring (1962) even suggested that galumnoids might provide a useful analogy for the evolution of wings in insects. However, pteromorphs are not actually wings like those of insects, being used only for protection, not flight. In animals as small as oribatids, the relative viscosity of the air becomes very high, not to mention the relative force of small air movements. Vary small arthropods that move aerially either develop long hairs or similar structures so that they can be passively lifted and carried by the breeze (like the line of silk produced by ballooning spiders) or have reduced wings with long fringes of hairs to maintain wing surface area while minimising air resistance (such as mymarid wasps, thrips or ptiliid beetles). A solid plate like the galumnoid pteromorph would be to difficult to move*.

*Similar issues affect suggestions that the absent fossil record of the earliest winged insects may indicate that flight evolved at small sizes. It seems almost certain that the first flying insects were relatively large.

The Galumnellidae can be distinguished from other galumnoid mites by the lack of protruding lamellae on the prodorsum (the top of the 'head'), the pointed rather than rounded rostrum, and the shape of their chelicerae. The chelicerae of galumnellids are long and slender, compared to the shorter, stronger chelicerae of their relatives in the Galumnidae. Galumnella has been shown in the laboratory to be panphytophagous (Badejo & Akinwole 2007)—that is, it will accept any type of plant or algal food, both living and dead.


Badejo, M. A., & P. O. Akinwole. 2007. Preliminary study of the feeding habits of seven species of oribatid mites from Nigeria. Systematic and Applied Acarology 12: 121-125.

Balogh, J., & P. Balogh. 1992. The Oribatid Mites Genera of the World, 2 vols. Hungarian Natural History Museum: Budapest.

Woodring, J. P. 1962. Oribatid (Acari) pteromorphs, pterogasterine phylogeny, and evolution of wings. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 55 (4): 394-403.


  1. Thanks for running a mite unknown. I've resisted doing so because I thought they'd be too tough, but some of your readers did pretty well considering the abstract nature of the illustrations.

    Hinged pteromorphs appear to have evolved several times in the Oribatida. There is even an unrelated family that superficially look just like galumnoids (Parakalummidae). That is a great thing about mites - all kinds of complicated behaviours and morphologies are independently derived in several unrelated lineages.

    Another example is your galumnellids. Unlike other galumnoids, they have so-called pelopsiform chelicerae - the second article is narrowed and elongate distally with small pincer-like digits at the tip (presumably for getting into small spaces) - that have appeared here and there in several lineages.

  2. Hello from México! I work as a secondary school teacher and I was wondering if you happen to have any protocol or technique so my students can see Demodex brevis. During my degree, in a parasitology course, I saw them, but I can’t remember how the procedure was. Thanks!

  3. Mike Huben provided a method for collecting Demodex in the comments for my post on them. Basically, you should (very carefully!) scrape a slide against your forehead, just strongly enough to push the mites out of their home follicles (but, of course, not so strongly that you hurt yourself). I tried doing it myself and I'm afraid I couldn't find anything, but Mike says that he's used the technique successfully a number of times. Note that not everybody has Demodex.

    And it's a minor quibble, but the Demodex you're most likely to collect in this way is D. folliculorum, not D. brevis. Demodex brevis is found on fewer people, found at lower numbers, and lives more deeply in the follicle so it would not be so easily extracted.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS