Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Soil Inhabitants: Beetle Mites

Oppia sp.

Vital Statistics:Length: 0.2 - 0.3 mm (could stand on the tip of your ball-point pen).
Lifespan: 6-12 months
Total Mite Population: up to 600,000 per square meter (6 in one teaspoon of soil).

Natural History:
In spite of their name, the round little beetle mites aren't insects at all. They are actually cousins of the spiders and ticks. Beetle mites are just one group of thousands of kinds of mites that live in the soil. Like most soil organisms living in a world of darkness, beetle mites have no eyes.
Mites are one of the first links in the chain of decomposers that break down organic matter into humus. Armies of mites swarm through leaf litter and the air spaces between soil grains. Each kind looks for its favorite food. Beetle mites eat nothing but fungus. They turn the fungus into pellets. Bacterial colonies coat the pellets and feed on them. The bacteria make plant nutrients from the pellets. The leftovers become part of the soil.
Beetle mites also carry fungi and bacteria with them, helping to spread these organisms through the soil. When the die, their bodies join the chain, adding minerals back to the soil.

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