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Males of Spider Mite Species Remove Females’ Skin to Gain Mating Priority

Male spider mites adopt a unique mating strategy by removing the outer skin of juvenile females to secure priority in mating.

A male spider mite guarding a female

Image credit: Peter Schausberger, University of Vienna

The Two-spotted Spider Mite

Two-spotted spider mites (Tetranychus urticae) are a common agricultural pest that feed on various crops, including beans and tomatoes. These mites undergo moulting, shedding their outer skin when transitioning from juvenile nymphs to adults.

Competition for Mating

Adult female spider mites can mate with multiple partners, but only the sperm from their first partner fertilizes their eggs. Therefore, there is intense competition among males to mate with females as soon as they reach maturity.

The Mating Strategy

Male mites often guard juvenile females until they become fertile adults, but this strategy is risky and energy-consuming. To minimize the risk, male mites have been observed removing the outer skin of females just before they reach maturity.

Experimental Findings

Peter Schausberger and his colleagues from the University of Vienna conducted experiments to study this behavior. They filmed juvenile female spider mites reared individually in cages, with or without the presence of a male.

The results showed that females without a male naturally shed their outer skin at a leisurely pace upon reaching sexual maturity. However, females housed with a male had their outer skin forcibly removed. The male would drum on the female’s skin to encourage it to break open and then use its mouthparts to remove the skin.

This behavior allowed females with a male to emerge from their outer skin approximately 5 minutes earlier on average than those without a male.

Significance of the Findings

This study provides experimental evidence of the unique skin-stripping behavior observed in male spider mites. This behavior enables males to inseminate females before rival males have the opportunity.

Conclusion

The mating strategy of spider mites involving the removal of females’ skin highlights the intricate and competitive nature of reproduction in the animal kingdom. Further research may unveil similar strategies in other species.

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