According to the Research and Innovation Communications team at Ohio State University, a species from this ‘extremophile’ family hasn’t been described for 40 years. They say it only “sort of” looks like a worm and moves like a worm, but it is a previously unidentified microscopic species of mite that was discovered by a graduate student on Ohio State campus.
When the Ohio State’s Acarology Laboratory Affectionately nicknamed the mite the “Buckeye Dragon Mite”, officially named Osperalycus tenerphagus, Latin for “mouth purse” and “tender feeding,” it was a nod to its complex and highly unusual oral structure. This new mite doesn’t exactly resemble a mythological winged dragon, but more the snake-like Chinese dancing dragons that appear in festivities celebrating each new year. What it does not resemble is a typical mite characterized by a large round body and tough external surface. And at 600 microns, or just over half a millimeter, the adult mite cannot be seen by the naked human eye.
“It is incredibly intricate despite being the same size as some single-cell organisms,” said Samuel Bolton, the doctoral student in evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State who discovered this species. “That’s the fascinating thing about mites and arthropods – mites have taken the same primitive and complex form and structure that they’ve inherited and shrunken everything down. So we’re dealing with complexity at an incredibly small scale.”
Bolton’s description of Osperalycus tenerphagus is published online in the Journal of Natural History. It is the fifth species from this worm-like family, called Nematalycidae, to be described, and only the second from North America.