50 million year old mite attached to ant head found in piece of amber

September 10, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
F2534/BB/CJW, Myrmozercon sp. (Mesostigmata: Laelapidae) from Eocene Baltic amber attached to the dolichoderine ant Ctenobethylus goepperti (Mayr, 1868). Credit: Biology Letters, Published 10 September 2014 doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0531

(Phys.org) —A small team of researchers with members from several countries has identified the oldest known instance of a type of mite fossil. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the team describes how they obtained a piece of amber with an ant embedded inside of it along with a mite that was attached to the ant's head, and what their work revealed.

Mites are parasitic arachnids, and have been around for a very long time. Amateur arachnologist Jörg Wunderlich found the dime-sized piece of , but doesn't know where or when (he thinks maybe it was the Russian Baltic coast)—he has an extensive collection of amber. Noting that a mite was embedded inside, he passed the fossilized specimens on to Jason Donlop, a researcher with the Museum für Naturkunde and one of the members of the research team. After dating the amber back approximately 44 to 49 million years ago, the team realized it contained the oldest known mite fossil of its kind, Myrmozercon of the family Laelapidae.

The mite is clearly attached to the ant's head, but because it's embedded in amber, it's impossible to tell if the ancient mite was feeding on the ant's hemolymph (a sort of colorless blood) or if it was just hitching a ride. In either case, the fossil find offers proof that have been living with as far back as 50 million years ago. It also offers physical evidence of a rare specimen—there aren't many mite fossils, because they are tiny and are typically eaten after they die—specimens from only nine families which includes just four named species, have ever been found. In this case it appears that the mite attached itself to an ant and when that ant got stuck in a bit of tree resin, both became embedded inside—as the resin hardened and fossilized, both were preserved inside.

Understanding how mites evolved helps researchers understand mites that exist today, which is important because they attach themselves to bees, ants and other creatures, some of which play very important ecological roles—one type, for example, Varroa mites, are known to be honey bee pests and may be playing a role in colony collapse.

Explore further: Three things you didn't know about the arachnids that live on your face

More information: An ant-associated mesostigmatid mite in Baltic amber, Biology Letters, Published 10 September 2014 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0531

Fossil mesostigmatid mites (Acari: Parasitiformes: Mesostigmata) are extremely rare, and specimens from only nine families, including four named species, have been described so far. A new record of Myrmozercon sp. described here from Eocene (ca 44–49 Myr) Baltic amber represents the first—and so far only—fossil example of the derived, extant family Laelapidae. Significantly, modern species of this genus are habitually myrmecophilous and the fossil mite described here is preserved attached to the head of the dolichoderine ant Ctenobethylus goepperti (Mayr, 1868). It thus offers the oldest unequivocal evidence for an ecological association between mesostigmatid mites and social insects in the order Hymenoptera.

Related Stories

Of bees, mites, and viruses

August 21, 2014

Honeybee colonies are dying at alarming rates worldwide. A variety of factors have been proposed to explain their decline, but the exact cause—and how bees can be saved—remains unclear. An article published on August ...

Fungus fights deadly bee mites in a two-pronged attack

October 22, 2012

(Phys.org)—A fungus normally used to control insect pests may help honey bees protect themselves from a destructive mite by both infecting the mites and preventing suppression of the bee immune system, says a team of bee ...

Recommended for you

Experts uncover hidden layers of Jesus' tomb site

October 27, 2016

In the innermost chamber of the site said to be the tomb of Jesus, a restoration team has peeled away a marble layer for the first time in centuries in an effort to reach what it believes is the original rock surface where ...

Important ancient papyrus seized from looters in Israel

October 27, 2016

(Phys.org)—Eitan Klein, a representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has announced that an important papyrus document dated to 2,700 years ago has been seized from a group of Palestinian looters who reportedly ...

Ancient parrot fossil found in Siberia

October 26, 2016

(Phys.org)—A Russian paleontologist has discovered a parrot fossil uncovered in Siberia several years ago—the first evidence of parrots living in Asia. In his paper published in Biology Letters, Nikita Zelenkov describes ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 11, 2014
Mites appear able to reveal more than the migrations of mammalian life -
See "Further reading" commentary thread.
Here mites appear able to shed evidence on the migrations of life beyond mammalian life.

Best merits to the researchers and the researchers' chain of events uncovering relics waiting to be noted.
not rated yet Sep 11, 2014
This is probably an example of symbiosis. Symbiosis is close and often long-term interaction between two or more different biological species. In 1879, the German mycologist Heinrich Anton de Bary defined it as "the living together of unlike organisms. Some symbiotic relationships are obligate, meaning that both symbionts entirely depend on each other for survival. For example, many lichens consist of fungal and photosynthetic symbionts that cannot live on their own. Others are facultative, meaning that they can, but do not have to live with the other organism.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.