These images of a mite were collected using a nano-CT scanner. This instrument is attached to a scanning electron microscope, which generates X-rays. The nano-CT scanner uses information from these X-rays to build 3D digital images. These ‘virtual specimens’ can be turned around to show different views and digitally dissected on a computer to reveal their internal structure.
CT scans allow scientists to ‘virtually dissect’ specimens without causing them any damage. This is a great advantage when only a few specimens are available or they are valuable. Being able to see a specimen in 3D, and study both its external and internal anatomy, gives researchers a greater understanding of the structure and function of features used in taxonomic studies.
Mites belong to the Arachnida, a group of eight-legged arthropods that also includes spiders, scorpions and ticks. This mite belongs to the genus Eupelops. Species of Eupelops have been collected throughout the world, apart from Antarctica. They are commonly found in moss and leaf litter, but sometimes on the bark of trees. Their diet includes microfungi associated with the breakdown of dead plants and animals.
Some species that live on crops can cause serious damage by feeding on cell sap, while others are beneficial because they prey on pests.
Buildings where foodstuffs are stored, such as granaries and hay barns, harbour a large and diverse mite population. Some types of mite cause allergic reactions in people handling the infested material.
Museum mite expert Anne Baker centres her research on the taxonomy of mites found in agricultural habitats. It is important to be able to identify the different species so that, for instance, pesticides are not used on beneficial mite predators.