Acari research

An cheese mite under magnification

Scanned Electron Microscope image of a cheese mite, Tyrolichus casei

Principal Investigator

Dr Anne Baker

Project summary

  • Focus: Creating acari database resources and assessing mites as archaeological indicators of change
  • Funding: NERC

Approximately 58,000 species of Acari (mites and ticks) have been named worldwide, with hundreds more described every year

Mites can have both positive and negative effects economically. Some parasitic species can cause serious losses in food production, while predatory mites have been successfully used to target pests in biological control programmes.

Biodiversity of British Acari

We are developing an illustrated website to help users identify members of the British Acari and locate information about them. 

Identifying British mites and ticks is difficult as taxonomic literature is scattered amongst scientific journals, while little of the fauna is covered by identification keys. 

As many taxa also occur in other geographical regions, the website will enable at least the preliminary identification of specimens from elsewhere in the world.

The website will include:

  • descriptions of collection and study methods for terrestrial Acari
  • accounts of morphology
  • an identification key to life stages
  • keys to major higher taxa, genera of ticks, major divisions of the Oribatida and Mesostigmata, and exemplar superfamilies and families of Astigmata and Prostigmata.
A box mite under magnification

Scanned Electron Microscope image of a box mite, Phthiracarus sp.

Checklist for British Mesostigmata

We are compiling a checklist and bibliography for British Mesostigmata, a mite order that includes economically important predators and parasites.

Mesostigmata are commonly found in soil, rotting vegetation and food stores, where most prey on small invertebrates and their eggs.

Each species entry is accompanied by references to published locality records. This allows users to trace the taxonomic history of species, and find ecological and biological information about them. 

The checklist will make new species and distribution records much easier to confirm and changes in the fauna more easily detected.

Mites as archaeological indicators of change 

In this joint project with the University of Sussex, we are assessing mites as indicators of changing livestock densities, and therefore agricultural activity, leading up to the end of the Inca Empire. Details of this time are lacking, partly due to the absence of a written record. 

Ancient Peruvian cultures relied on domesticated Camelidae (mainly llamas and alpacas) for many aspects of life, e.g., food, wool, fuel, fertiliser and transport. Changes in animal numbers affect the amount of dung and, therefore, nutrients deposited. These, in turn, influence the composition of associated mite communities. 

Mites were extracted from a sediment core sample from the in-filled lake basin of Marcacocha, Peru.

The site is on an ancient trans-Andean Inca trading route where camelid caravans would have been grazed and watered. The core spanned the rise and eventual collapse of the Empire. 

Identifying the mites on this site enabled data on their habitat and food preferences to be obtained. Such information sheds light on the environmental conditions that existed when they were alive. 

First results from the project show that fossil mites were more reliable indicators of fluctuations in livestock abundance than spores of the dung fungus Sporormiella, a routinely used indicator.  

Museum staff

External collaborators

Dr Mick FrogleyDr Alex Chepstow-Lusty
University of Sussex

Funded by

Biodiversity research

We are creating molecular and digital tools to explore undiscovered biodiversity.


Investigating the taxonomy, systematics and biodiversity of groups of invertebrates.

Zoology collections

Our zoology collection has 29 million animal specimens and is rich in voucher, type and historical specimens.