The red velvet mite, Trombidiidae, are pretty hard to miss despite being so small. A vibrant fuzzball of an arachnid, the red velvet mite goes on something of a spree following heavy rains when they’ll go on the prowl for insects.
If you’d like to spot a red velvet mite in all its teeny wonder and you’re in Texas, you’re in luck, as July through to September is the region’s monsoon season which typically brings in around 70 percent of annual rainfall.
The imminent arrival of the red velvet mite was heralded in by the National Parks Service on Instagram, who helpfully pointed out that the scientific name of Trombidiidae is pronounced “trom-buh-dee-uh-dee” (try saying that fast seven times in a row).
“As monsoon rains return to the desert areas of west Texas, these little critters, also know as a rain bug (how cute), can be spotted after a good rain,” they wrote. “Part of the arachnid class, they can grow to a whopping 0.5 inches [1.3 centimeters]. The mites emerge from burrows after the rain to feast. With their fang-like mouthparts (not as cute), they prey on insects like the desert termite that also emerge after a heavy monsoon rain.”
What is a red velvet mite?
The red velvet mite is a minute arachnid that sits within the arthropods. Trombidiidae are known as the true velvet mites, and they are found statewide across the US.
Like other arachnids, they have eight legs and a rather orb-like body which, unlike spiders, isn’t split up into separate sections. There are around 300 species of red velvet mite globally, which can range in size from minute to around 1.3 centimeters (0.5 inches), with the largest being the giant velvet mite (Dinothrombium spp.).
Where can I find a red velvet mite?
You’ll most likely find a red velvet mite scuttling across rocks, trees, or along the ground, and while they are roaming around year-round they are particularly noticeable after heavy rains. This is because they will emerge from their hiding places (such as in the soil) en masse to gorge on insects.
The larval forms, which are the smallest, can sometimes be seen clinging to an insect or arachnid host upon which they look like little red eggs. This is because they subsist on the juices of their host, sucking them out from safe spots between their armor plates where it’s easier to avoid being brushed off.
As for how to ID a red velvet mite? Well, if it’s recently been raining and you can see a red pom-pom on legs making a dash for it, you’re probably onto something.