Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mighty mite

When tree sap enveloped an ant, it also enveloped the mesostigmatid mite attached to its head. Some 45 million years later, the fossilized specimen provides the oldest evidence of a mite attacking a social insect. The eyeless parasites are rare in the fossil record because they lived in soil and leaf litter and were often gobbled up after they died. Evolutionary biologist Jason Dunlop of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin and his colleagues discovered this example in amber, probably Baltic in origin, in the natural history collection of German paleontologist Joerg Wunderlich. For the study, the mite was invaluable, but Dunlop observes, "For the ant, however, these mites are presumably a nuisance, and perhaps even dangerous. This ancient ant was almost certainly not enjoying carrying the mite around with it.”

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