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Parazercon sp. 

Magnification: 347:1

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Mites are a highly adaptable group of Arthropoda that are related to spiders and scropions, have eight legs and are usually smaller than a full stop. Despite representing one of the most diverse groups within the animal kingdom (>20’000 species), mites are notoriously overlooked due to the diminutive size. Millions of dust mites live inside furniture and fabric in the average home. The dead bodies and excrement of dust mites can cause allergic reactions to household dust. Other mites are parasites, whereas soil mites form part of the great diversity of organisms that contribute to the break down of plant material.

This is a coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a predatory soil-dwelling mite, Mesostigmata: Zerconidae: possibly a Parazercon sp. The grey appendages in the central part of the image are the pedipalps. The seta („hairs“) with the modified tip belongs to the tarsus of the first pair of legs. In ticks, this area contains Haller’s organ – a complex of pits and modified setae that sense things like CO2 and infrared.

The function of the setal cluster at the tip of tarsus nr.1 is not well studied in Mesostigmata, but undoubtedly contains a variety of chemosensory setae. Sometimes they have a swollen tip like the one here.

The yellow, tongue-like process in the area of the chelicera is probably the palpal apotele. This is a remnant of the claw of the palps and is produced between the palpal tibia and tarsus. It is used to groom the chelicerae. In zerconids it is bifurcate and looks a bit like an index and second finger would if held slightly apart. The thin line of grey probably represents the space between both parts of this bifurcate palpal apotele (or „tongue“).

This work is part of Micronaut’s ‘Cursed Knights’-series which shows close-up portraits of mites and has become famous at the IPA / Lucy Awards, after winning the 1st prize in the ‘Special Photography-Category’. Furthermore, Micronaut has been awarded ‘International Photographer of the Year’ in 2011, due to these unique works.