JoAnne Skelly: The fascinating world of entomology | NevadaAppeal.com

JoAnne Skelly: The fascinating world of entomology

JoAnne Skelly

I'm an amateur entomologist. I am thrilled when someone brings in an interesting insect or arachnid (spiders, mites, scorpions, etc.).

Today a client brought me a critter I had never seen, a red velvet mite (RVM). Regular readers of my articles know I have written about spider mites, which are the size of dust particles. The RVM is approximately one-eighth-of-an-inch (3 to 5 millimeters) in length and easily seen with the naked eye. In addition to its large size (for a mite), it is a beautiful red-orange color and is covered with velvety hairs. It really stands out. A University of Wisconsin writer describes the RVM as a "plump, brilliantly red plush Beanie Baby."

Some RVM live in moist soil and leaf litter and others live in deserts. They can spend much of their time underground. They are found throughout North America. And, while their eight legs make them a relative to the spiders, they do not bite or sting people or animals. They also don't eat plants. In fact, they actually eat plant pests, keeping pest insect populations in check. If a RVM is found on a plant, it is probably feeding on a pest. Young RVM look like little red balls and are sometimes known as red bugs. They attach themselves to grasshoppers, beetles, other insects and spiders sucking on their host's juices. Larvae can cling to a host's wing even in flight. The adults eat insect eggs and other insects such as ants.

The RVM love life is the stuff of entomological legend. A male builds up a raised area, often called a "love garden" in the literature, on a leaf, twig or grass blade where he places sperm droplets. He then invites females in by weaving a lovely trail of silk to the droplets. If a female is beguiled and led in, she will sit on or pick up the sperm. This fertilizes her eggs. She will then scatter the eggs on the soil. Larvae hatch, find a host to attach to and begin feeding. However, there can be trouble during this mating process because a rival male may trash the first male's love garden, removing the original builder's sperm and replacing it with his own.

Yes, the world of entomology is fascinating. Since, there are 1.3 million described species of insects, over two-thirds of all known organisms. I will be studying for a long time.

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at skellyj@unce.unr.edu or 887-2252.

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