Male Spider Mites Flay Frisky Females Before Mating

Nature is metal, as the saying goes. But it’s also occasionally just plain weird, kinda gross, or both simultaneously.

Case in point: some spider mite behavior recently observed by scientists from the University of Vienna. Turns out that before they mate, these tiny arachnids engage in a ritual that appeals to exactly no one, with two exceptions: other spider mites and one of the least savory Game of Thrones characters.

According to a paper published in the journal iScience, male spotted spider mites “undress” the females to make mating easier. But since spider mites don’t wear clothes (that we know of), said undressing consists of ripping off the female’s exoskeleton. The male achieves this by making his way underneath the female and using sharp mouth parts called pedipalps to saw away at the exoskeleton.

a microscopic image of two spider mites preparing to mate

The male spider mite working his magic. Photo: Screenshot/Schausberger et al.


With the pesky outer layer gone, the male has an easier time inserting his aedeagus (a specialized spider mite sex organ) into the female.

We’ll take a break here to let you go take a cold shower, think about baseball, or whatever else you need to do.

An intensive strategy

Back? Okay. This little ritual might sound dramatic or even violent, but according to Peter Schausberger, a co-author of the paper, it’s nothing but a specialized adaptation to an already existing mating behavior. Spotted spider mite mating is considerably more successful with the exoskeleton out of the way. If there are no males to do the job, the female will remove her own exoskeleton.

A female spider mite removes her own exoskeleton

A female spider mite removes her own exoskeleton. Photo: Screenshot, Schausberger et al.


But there’s almost always a male around, Schausberger told Live Science. The males will guard a pre-molting female for up to 10 days — a strategy that costs significant resources. Assisting in the “undressing” prior to mating makes the whole process much quicker and helps ensure another male doesn’t swoop in and do the deed instead.

“It only takes a couple of seconds for copulation,” Schausberger told the outlet. “This guarding behavior is high in energy and time, so the males want to ensure that another male doesn’t take over a female.”

Well, everybody’s got their own courtship rituals. We aren’t here to judge. I once said goodnight to a prospective lady friend with the most awkward “finger guns and wink” combo imaginable, and she still ended up marrying me.

There’s hope for us all, spider mites included.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
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