Male spider mites ‘undress’ females before mating: study

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Spider mites — they’re just like us.

Scientists at the University of Vienna have uncovered the creepy-crawlies’ sexual habits. Male spider mites will “undress” their female counterparts before copulation, according to a study published in the scientific journal iScience.

This “stripping” occurs when a female spider mite reaches maturity.

Owing to intense competition for mates, male spider mites will look for females nearing maturity and guard them up until their skin — the “exuvia” — can be removed for sex.

Male spider mites are eager to get to a female first because it ensures that the female’s offspring will be fathered by them.


A man unzips a woman's red dress from behind.
Just like humans, spider mites have recently been discovered to “undress” partners before copulation.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Researchers also determined that this behavior is an adaptive one, which evolved as males found new strategies for circumventing sexual competition.

The study focuses particularly on the UK species known as the two-spotted spider mite.

Even though the creatures are only half a millimeter in size, the male of the species proves his mettle by guarding the female throughout the evolutionary stage just before maturity — which typically lasts around 24 hours.


A male spider mite mates with a female.
Male spider mites will engage in risky “guarding,” waiting for the female to reach maturity in order to be the first to mate with her.
iScience/Schausberger et al

Guarding females is “a risky, ‘all or nothing’ investment,” study author Arthur Schausberger said.

“In many species, takeovers by rival males and/or interference and displacement of guards during, or shortly after, female emergence may occur.”

This is why male spider mites have learned to accelerate a female’s sexual readiness by stripping off her exuvia.

Males have even been shown to drum their legs on females throughout the guarding process in hopes of accelerating the moulting, so that the outer skin of the female spider mites will crack sooner and the mating process can begin.

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