In a strong beam of light the harvest mite will move directly towards the source, whereas in a weak light the tracks are at first inclined to be wavy, but as they approach the source the tracks straighten. The mite moves along the bisector of two intersecting lights of equal intensity, and when blinded on one side makes circus movements.
When offered a linear gradient of light intensity the mite avoids the darkened portion and moves towards the lightest part of the field. Its movement towards sunlight is a true response to light and not to heat. A sudden decrease of light intensity produces a questing response.
The sensory perception of heat is poorly developed. The mite is incapable of locating a warm tube or the body of a young live mouse. On touching a heated object it displays a well-defined response to a temperature difference of about 15° C. In a linear or concentric temperature gradient it displays avoiding reactions to low and high temperatures and appears to prefer a range extending from 15 to 26° C.
The mite is repelled at a distance of 0.5 cm. from phenol, methyl phthalate, dilute ammonia, xylene and a 3 % solution of glacial acetic acid.Toluene was repugnant at 1.5 cm., whilst a mixture of amyl acetate and water repelled the mite at 5 cm. Complete indifference was shown to the odour of skin, liver, sebum and cerumen, but perspiration induced an avoiding reaction.
Depletion of the water content influences the response of the mite to humidity. A desiccated mite is active in dry air and inactive in moist air, but a normal individual will settle in either moist or dry air, while avoiding saturated air. The mite requires high humidities for prolonged survival, but avoids free water.
Unfed mites are very sensitive to touch. The extent of stimulation by contact with each other’s bodies, which is regarded as high, immobilizes them, and it is primarily responsible for the quiescent state of a cluster of mites. When the stimulation is low, for example, when only the tarsi are in contact with a surface, the mite responds by displaying a high state of activity. A mite lightly touched will immediately quest, a response induced equally by vibrations of the substratum.
The gregarious habit of the mites is primarily a response to the touch of each other’s bodies. When the humidity is within the range 95-100% R.H. light will induce the mites to climb up a rod and form a cluster at the tip. Whether or not negative geotaxis also plays a part, it is difficult to say, because the evidence suggested that the mite is independent of gravity.
There are three types of sensilla: (1) tactile sensilla, both plumose and plain; (2) peg organs; (3) minute sensory rods, principally confined to the first leg. An elliptical lens, a discoid mass of red-pigmented oily substance, and a pronounced dark pigmented cup are conspicuous features of the better developed anterior eye of each ocular area.
Where possible the responses of the mite to various kinds of stimuli have been identified according to a recognized scheme of classification.
The responses to stimuli which the mite will encounter in the natural environment, and their value with respect to acquiring a host, are discussed.
The ectoparasitic habit of the hexapod larva of Trombicula autumnalis is the cause of much discomfort to residents of infected localities in the British Isles, between late June and the beginning of October. The mite is a member of the Trombiculid group which includes species known to transmit disease in some parts of the world.
The unfed larvae are found either upon the soil or climbing upon low-lying vegetation. Under suitable conditions they aggregate into clusters and are then more easily detected as orange patches. Development to the nymphal stage cannot take place unless the larvae obtain a meal from the superficial tissue of a vertebrate host to which they must securely attach themselves. The nymphs and adults are non-parasitic and lead a hypogeal existence at a depth of about 12 in. below the surface of the soil (Cockings, 1948).
The hairs of a mammal, or the feathers of a bird, as they brush against infected soil or low-lying vegetation, are admirably suited for picking up the mites, but the question arises, to what extent are sensory perceptions of environmental stimuli of the mites directed towards the acquisition of a host. The chief aim of the present work has therefore been to investigate (a) the responses of the mite to stimuli most likely to have value with respect to the problem of acquiring a host, and (6) the nature of the sensory organs.
Few workers have studied the orientation mechanisms of members of the Acarina. Henschel (1929) described the reactions of Tyrolichus casei, the cheese mite, to chemical stimulation. Totze (1933) studied the sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus, and Solomon (1937) the red-legged earth mite, Halotydeus destructor, in relation to environmental conditions. Lees (1948) reinvestigated the reactions of Ixodes ricinus with respect to those stimuli the tick will encounter in its natural environment. As to the behaviour of harvest mites there exist only a few scattered and very incomplete references to observations in the field. It was found desirable to carry out a preliminary ecological study of Trombicula autumnalis in 1947 to provide information upon which to base the present work. The observations of the mite in the field were invaluable for suggesting lines of investigation in the laboratory, and for assessing the significance of the sensory perceptions of the mite with respect to acquiring a host.
Reactions to light
Among members of the Acarina, unfed ticks and harvest mites closely resemble each other in showing a tendency to climb upwards, a movement which in some unfed insect larvae is associated with a positive response to light. However, the results of Totze (1933) and MacLeod (1935) on the response to light of eyeless species of ticks are contradictory. Lees (1948) found himself in agreement with MacLeod, who was quite unable to confirm the findings of Totze, who maintained that unfed ticks, Ixodes ricinus, in all stages are strongly photopositive. Lees, like MacLeod, tested unfed and engorged ticks which were all photonegative.
Ticks show a strong inclination to climb up to the tips of the stems of rushes and grasses. This behaviour could be accounted for either by a response to light, or to the influence of some form of negative geotaxis. Krijgsman (1937), working with tick larvae, Boophilus annulatus, found they were indifferent to gravity. Lees (1948) stated that it was not easy to interpret the results of his gravity tests on Ixodes ricinus, but concluded that although negative geotaxis may be of some significance, the inclination to maintain a position at the tips of glass rods, serving as models of natural grass or rush stems, was partly a tactile response following arrival at the tip. If, as the evidence suggests, ticks are photonegative and independent of gravity, it is difficult to account for the persistent nature of their tendency to climb, upwards, which must invariably lead unfed ticks, in the first place, from the roots of vegetation and up the stems of grasses, before they experience arrival at the tip, which as Lees suggests only enhances this behaviour.
The findings of gravity tests on harvest mites (see p. 482) showed that they assumed a random distribution upon a vertical rod. This apparent independence of gravity is also readily shown by the mites when they move about upside down upon the under surface of the window of a light trap (Jones, 1950 a). With the elimination of gravity as an influence, there remained the possibility of a response to light being responsible for the upward-climbing movement.
Responses to beams of light
The tests were made in a dark room. A circle of filter-paper, 18 cm. in diameter, placed upon a circular glass plate, 20 cm. in diameter, served as the experimental field. Although a dark surface is usually prescribed, preliminary tests showed the reactions of mites to horizontal light to be similar upon either black or white filter-paper. White filter-papers were therefore used because it was easier to mark the paths traversed by the mites. Illumination was provided by 40 W. and 100 W. bulbs enclosed in light-proof containers with a circular aperture cm. in diameter, to allow the escape of a horizontal beam of light across the filter-paper. The light, before it escaped, was first cooled by passing it through a in. tank containing an acidified solution of alum. Light intensities were measured with a G.E.C. photometer.
Single horizontal beam
Mites were placed, usually three at a time, in the centre of the illuminated field. On exposure to a strong beam, with a light gradient extending from 670 m.c. at the centre of the field to 6500 m.c. at the source, they usually moved away from the light before tracing a circular path either to the right or left, which brought them into a position facing up the gradient. This initial turning movement was a prelude to the mites tracing paths straight towards the source, but with a tendency to curve to one side of the beam (see Fig. 1 B). The movements of mites exposed to a weaker beam, with a light gradient extending from 270 to 2600 m.c., did not show the same features. The initial turning, induced by the strong beam, was not evident, and the tracks towards the source were decidedly wavy, and only straightened near the source (see Fig. 1 A). Occasionally a mite moved away from the light and when transferred back to the centre of the field it repeated the negative response. Sometimes a photopositive mite when repeatedly brought back to the centre of the field orientated towards the light by taking almost the same path it had traced previously. Behaviour of this kind has probably been responsible for the suggestion that each animal inherits a specific response to an offered stimulus.
Two horizontal beams
In a two-light experiment with beams of equal intensity arranged to intersect at about 90° at the centre of the field, the mites were inclined to follow a path some distance along the bisector, before moving towards one or the other light source (see Fig. 2 B). When two unequal crossed beams were presented the mites moved directly up the gradient of the stronger beam (see Fig. 2 A).
To discover the ability of the mites to detect a stronger light intensity behind them, they were allowed to move up the gradient of a single beam until they had approached within about 6 cm. of the source (2600 m.c.), before an opposing light of 6500 m.c. at the source was switched on. The mites continued in the same direction for about a centimetre, stopped, made a complete turn, and then moved towards the stronger light. Occasionally a mite displayed continuous turning movements on reaching the centre of the field (see Fig. 3).
Response to a laterally presented beam
In this series of experiments the light source remained in the same position, whereas the filter-paper was turned about a centre point like a record on a gramophone disk. The mite was placed in the beam and allowed to move towards a light. The filter-paper and the mite were then turned clockwise through an angle of 90°. The light now fell laterally upon the mite so that one eyespot was more stimulated than the other. This asymmetry of stimulation caused the mite to re-orientate itself towards the light.
By repeatedly turning the filter-paper in this way the mite was induced to trace a rectangular path which brought it back to the starting point (see Fig. 4). However, individual mites showed variations in their reactions. The turning began either immediately or after a slight delay. Occasionally a mite after each turning movement traced a path directly towards the source of light. More often they moved towards it at an angle of about 15 °, but they corrected the deviation if they were allowed to continue to approach the light source.
Mites previously chilled to make them inactive were transferred to a moist filter-paper under a binocular microscope. Quick-drying black cellulose paint was placed, with the end of a single camel hair glued to a wooden handle, over the ocular area. Treatment was considered successful if the paint completely covered the area without interfering with any part of the body concerned in locomotion. The treated mite was then transferred to a glass cell and kept in complete darkness for an hour.
When mites blinded on one side were placed in a uniform light of 250 m.c. provided by an overhead lamp, they moved in the direction of the seeing eye, and made circus movements as they traced their somewhat random tracks towards the periphery of the experimental field (see Fig. 5 B). Unblinded mites made more or less straight tracks from the centre to the periphery of the field.
When unilaterally blinded mites were exposed to a horizontal beam, they were inclined to make a gently curving circus movement before tracing a path diagonally across the beam and into the shaded part of the field. It was clear that the primary effect of the light was to stimulate the seeing eye, and increase the muscular tone of the uncovered side sufficiently to cause a deviation to one side as the mite approached the source (see Fig. 5 A).
The response of totally blinded mites was also tested to discover whether or not a diffuse dermal light sense existed. In the way already described, mites with both eyes blinded were exposed to a horizontal beam of light, but, it being exceedingly difficult to accomplish the satisfactory blinding of both eyes of an individual mite, the number of tests was limited. The results of these tests (see Fig. 6) are not easy to interpret, but it is clear that the blinded mite completely loses the ability to move directly towards the light source. Apparent movement towards the light, when it occurred, could be accounted for by the possibility of light entering the thin cuticle, and reaching the eyes from below (Oehring, 1934, after Wigglesworth, 1939). This is certainly a possibility because mites, contained in a glass jar exposed to light, will take up a position nearest to the source, although this entails the ventral side of their bodies facing the light (see p. 481). The same response is equally well demonstrated by their response to the horizontal window of a light-trap, where the mites, walking upside down upon the under-surface of the window, remain in the incident light (Jones, 1950 a).
Reactions to light intensity
The experiments were designed to discover whether the mites showed a selective activity towards light intensities under conditions in which the source of light was not apparent.
A glass tube, 27 cm. in length and 0.6 cm. in diameter, closed at each end by a ground-glass stopper, was marked off into three equal lengths A, B and C. Section A was blackened with a deposit of Sudan black. The middle section B was shaded by an opaque screen to give a light intensity of about 300 m.c., whilst the light intensity of section C, exposed to the northern light of the window, was about 500 m.c. Fifty mites were placed in the middle of the tube for each test. The mites scattered along the tube, and whereas they avoided the darkened section there was no indication that they showed a preference for the window light. The mites were continually active and moved to and fro indiscriminately between sections B and C. The movements of individual mites are shown in Fig. 7.
To accentuate the difference between the light intensities the glass tube was placed in direct sunlight. A moist pad of cotton-wool was inserted into the tube near the closed end of the darkened section to provide a favourable air humidity inside the tube. The mites still avoided the darkened section, but occasionally they wandered into it for a brief period. Rough positional counts, made every 15 min., of mites in the shaded section B and the sunlit section C showed that about two-thirds of the number of mites tended to remain in the sunlit portion. Tests carried out with individual mites showed that frequently the mite, when placed between sections B and C, first crawled away from the more intense light. Occasionally it entered the darkened section for a brief period before making very devious tracks towards the sunlit portion of the tube. But on having entered the sunlit portion the mite remained there actively crawling around the inside of the tube (see Fig. 8).
Such experiments, in which a portion of the tube containing mites was exposed to direct sunlight, did not allow for the possible influence of temperature and humidity upon the observed distribution of the mites. Extremes of light intensity were therefore offered to mites in a tube in which temperature and humidity variations were eliminated. The tube was marked off this time into four sections, A, B, C and D. Section A was darkened; B (300 m.c.) was shaded by an opaque screen; C (500 m.c.) was open to the window light; and section D (1000 m.c.) was exposed to a water-cooled beam of light (see Fig. 10). The beam was screened from the other sections of the tube. The air temperature in each marked off portion of the tube was 19° C.
Tests were carried out with individual mites. In most of them the mite moved straight towards section D and remained there. When the ground-glass stopper was removed at this end of the tube the mite displayed a well-defined preference for crawling actively around the rim of the open end. The mite was usually removed after it had crawled on the rim for 20 min. or more (see Fig. 9). This response to the highest intensity of light indicated that the response to sunlight was a true response to light and not to heat. The avoiding reaction to darkness was the natural outcome of the photopositive mite orientating itself towards the lighter part of the field.
When mites are transferred to a collecting jar exposed (either in the field or in the laboratory) to daylight they become aroused and display an immediate upward-climbing reaction. They aggregate round the base of the glass stopper and penetrate any space between the stopper and the neck of the jar. If the stopper is removed they will crawl round the rim of the neck, but they are just as liable to climb directly over the rim, down the outside of the jar and to the substratum. The upward-climbing movement was not the result of an avoiding reaction to condensed moisture from moist filter-paper at the bottom of the jar, because the neck was kept moist with a wet camel-hair brush each time a fresh batch of mites was introduced. The behaviour suggested either a response by the photopositive mite to sunlight or negative geotaxis.
Response to shading
In the field it was not difficult to obtain from the mites a very definite questing response to a shadow suddenly passed over them. It was best elicited from a quiescent cluster of mites exposed to sunlight. When the hand was passed rapidly over a cluster of mites they displayed immediate and very definite reflex actions. The cluster was transformed into a mass of waving legs. The typical reaction of an individual mite was to direct the anterior part of the body upward and hold the forelegs out in front of the body. The forelegs beat the air with alternate up and down movements as if the mite was trying to reach something immediately above. The frantic beating of the forelegs subsequently stopped and the cluster broke up, with the mites moving away from the site. A shadow passed over the crawling mites a sceond time stopped them in their tracks and induced the typical questing response. When a cluster of mites was dispersed by passing a shadow only once or twice it was common for the mites to reform into a cluster provided there was no further interference. If the shadow stimulus was produced repeatedly the questing response gradually weakened as the aroused mites wandered in all directions away from the original site.
This response to a sudden decrease in the light intensity was observed in more detail under the microscope in the laboratory. When a shadow, thrown by a needle, was passed over them they immediately stopped in their tracks and the forelegs beat the air, whilst the body of the mite was supported by the mid- and hind-legs (see Fig. 14 A). Frequently the body was lowered suddenly to the substratum, whilst all the legs were extended upward (see Fig. 14 B). In the same way the shadow of a passing host would equally induce the mites to quest, a condition of preparedness, which would greatly improve their chances of being picked up.
Response to reflected light
The experimental field consisted of an arena 14 cm. in diameter with a wall 6 cm. high. The arena was constructed by placing a collar of black paper upon a sheet of black paper which was the floor of the experimental field. A piece of white paper, 6 cm. square, served as a white screen against the black wall of the arena. An overhead lamp illuminated the arena with a weak but uniform light of 50 m.c.
At first the mites usually turned away from the white screen before they moved towards it, but in all cases the screen was eventually reached. The tracks were very wavy, and those which were inclined to lead towards the side of the screen curved towards it as the distance shortened (see Fig. 15). None of the paths taken suggested that the mites reached the screen by a series of avoiding reactions to the dark surface of the arena, so that this response to a white surface suggests that it is one towards reflected light, an orientation described in many insects (Fraenkel & Gunn, 1940).
Reactions to temperature
Temperature is an important factor to insect parasites of warm-blooded animals, and is one of the stimuli guiding the insect to its host. Wigglesworth & Gillett (1934) found that Rhodnius prolixus, the large South American blood-sucking bug, moved towards a test-tube of warm water, and that the receptors for detecting warmth were located in the antennae. Rivnay (1932) showed that the bed-bug is thermotactic. Mosquitoes and some lice are also stimulated to bite by the heat of the body. Totze (1933) mentioned, and Lees (1948) later confirmed, that the tick, Ixodes ricinus, will move towards a warm tube. The common occurrence of harvest mites on warm-blooded hosts suggested the possibility of temperature being a guiding stimulus.
Response to a source of heat
The purpose of the experiments was to learn whether a concentric temperature gradient set up around a heated glass tube could guide the mite towards the tube itself.
A flat-bottomed glass tube, 2 cm. in diameter, was connected by a capillary tube arrangement to an adjacent large vessel containing warmed water. The warm water circulated through the tube at a controlled temperature, and ran off through an outlet capillary tube. A thermometer was also inserted into the tube to take temperature readings. The tube itself was placed in the centre of a filter paper, the mites (previously kept at a temperature of 18 ° C.) were released at varying distances from it. The temperature of the laboratory whilst the tests were being carried out was 18-19°C.
Mites released at distances of 1 and 0.5 cm. from warm tubes with temperatures of 25, 30, 35, 40 and 45° C. showed no response. Occasionally individual mites in their wanderings from the point of release moved towards the tube and touched it. At temperatures of 25-30° C. the mites which had moved against the heated tube showed no positive response and continued their wanderings away from the tube towards the edge of the filter-paper (see Fig. 16 A). At temperatures of 35-40° C. mites which had accidentally touched the tube displayed a well-defined response. For a period varying around 3 min. they crawled continually around the base of the heated tube before climbing upon it (see Fig. 16 B). Mites placed against the base of the tube at temperatures between 35 and 40° C. invariably displayed this definite reaction of excitedly crawling around the base of the tube. They were not repelled by a temperature of 45° C., but they crawled around the base of the tube until the temperature had fallen to about 40° C. before climbing upon it.
Since the temperature from which the mites were taken was about 19° C. and the temperature to which they reacted was 35-45° C., the indication was that a temperature difference of about 15° C. was required to induce a positive response. It was expressed only as an accelerated rate of locomotion; on no occasion did the forelegs quest as in the shadow reflex. So the forelegs do not act as thermo-receptors like the forelegs of the tick or the antennae of some insects.
Reactions to a linear temperature gradient
In investigating the reactions of small animals to a linear temperature gradient, MacLeod (1935) used a copper strip cooled at one end and warmed at the other. Wigglesworth (1941) used an apparatus consisting essentially of a zinc trough embedded deeply in a large trough containing sand. The zinc trough was cooled with ice blocks at one end and warmed by means of a series of graded Bunsen flames. In the present work it was convenient to use a tubular linear temperature gradient apparatus.
A glass chamber, 27 cm. long and 1 cm. in diameter, was closed at one end with a rubber stopper, whilst a rubber stopper carrying a short length of narrow glass tubing was fitted into the other end. A thermometer was inserted into the chamber through the glass tube. The bulb of the thermometer could then be moved to any required region of the chamber in order to record the air temperature.
The chamber was placed parallel to a window facing north. The closed end, for a distance of 4 cm., was embedded in ice, the opposite end rested upon a trough filled with sand gently heated by a Bunsen flame. A temperature gradient extended from 7 to 40° C., + 2° C., was maintained. A piece of filter-paper carrying about fifty mites was placed in the middle of the chamber. The mites had been previously kept at 18° C. They quickly dispersed inside the chamber, but displayed avoiding reactions as they approached the lower and higher temperatures of the gradient. In the six experiments rough positional counts were made at intervals. The results indicated that there was not a well-defined preferred zone, but most of the mites were aggregated between temperatures of 15 and 26° C. at any one time (see Table 1).
Reactions to a concentric temperature gradient
The purpose of the tests was primarily to discover the nature of the movements of the mites away from the lower and higher temperatures of a gradient, because it was not easy to interpret these movements inside a glass tube.
A ground-glass plate, 30 cm. in diameter, was placed upon a peripheral circle of ice blocks. A blackened 25 W. bulb was placed below the centre of the under-surface of the glass plate. The ice reduced the temperature at the edge to about 7° C., whilst a temperature of about 40° C. was maintained at the centre. The temperatures were measured approximately by placing the bulb of a thermometer against the glass plate.
The mites were released at the centre of the experimental field. They moved from the centre towards the edge of the field. On approaching the cooler part they displayed avoiding reactions. Similar reactions were observed in the central warmer region. It was noticeable that as a mite moved into the cooler part the rate of locomotion decreased, but it was never immobilized or failed to turn round and walk in the opposite direction towards the warmer regions. On approaching the warmer parts the mite displayed a detectable increase of pace before turning round and crawling back down the gradient. The turning away from the cooler or warmer parts of the gradient was usually gradual and seldom abrupt. Moreover, the recorded paths of the mites clearly showed that as the mites moved around the circular field they did so within a well-defined zone owing to a series of avoiding reactions to the lower and higher temperatures of the concentric gradient (see Fig. 17).
Response to chemical stimulation
Henschel (1929) investigating the olfactory sense of Tyrolichus casei, the cheese mite, showed that it reacted positively to putrefying protein and one of its constituents skatol, provided the concentration was not too high. The cheese mites reached baits such as meat juice and squashed caterpillars by very devious paths up the gradient of intensity. When the tick Ixodes ricinus is stimulated chemically it starts waving its front legs (Totze, 1933). The front legs bear Haller’s organs which are the chemoreceptors. Totze (1933) also showed that the tick was capable of picking out an optimum zone in a gradient of butyric acid; Solomon (1937) found that various substances were repugnant to Halotydeus destructor, the red-legged earth mite. It is difficult to decide whether a mite has an olfactory sense, for although many workers assume that blood-sucking insects have a sense of smell and are attracted to the host by the odour emanating from the body, difficulty arises in discriminating between an olfactory sense and a sense in the nature of taste.
The very excitable and purposeful movements of harvest mites crawling on the hairs or naked skin of a host suggested that odour was a possible stimulant. Their predilection for certain habitats on the host itself further suggested that odour might exert a guiding influence. Host tissues and secretions as well as various volatile substances were therefore tested on the mites.
Reactions to volatile substances
Di-methyl-phthalate and di-butyl-phthalate were most successfully used during the military campaigns in the Far East for repelling Trombiculid mites. Certain other substances commonly used in the laboratory were found to be repugnant to the mites, and these were used in tests designed to assess their sensory perception of chemical stimulation.
Fifty mites were transferred to a glass tube 15 cm. long and 1 cm. in diameter. A small pad of cotton-wool was moistened with the test substance and placed inside the tube near one end, being separated from the mites by a fine lawn screen supported by a rubber ring. The open ends of the tube were plugged with cotton-wool (see Fig. 11). Light was directed upon the end containing the test substance so that the mites, being photopositive, were induced to move towards it.
It was found that the mites displayed avoiding reactions on approaching within 0.5 cm. of phenol, methyl-phthalate, dilute ammonia, xylene and a 3% solution of glacial acetic acid. Toluene appeared to have a stronger effect; the mites were repelled at a distance of 1.5 cm. A mixture of 3 vol. of amyl acetate and 97 vol. of water was even more repellent, for the mites reacted to the vapour at a distance of 5 cm. Mites approaching within this distance were narcotized by the vapour. Indifference was shown to glycerine and lactic acid.
The mites did not wave the forelegs in the manner described by Totze (1933) in his observations on the reaction of ticks to chemical stimulation. Since the mites were only able to detect the vapour at very short distance it must be assumed that their sensory perception of chemo-stimulation is not well developed and that high concentrations of vapour are necessary to induce avoiding reactions. Although the mite possesses sense organs of the chemo-receptor type (see p. 485) the entry of the noxious vapour into the tracheal system which opens near the chelicerae may also have played a part in the perception of the volatile substances tested.
Reactions to host tissues and secretions
The host tissue or secretion to be tested as an attractant was placed in the centre of a filter-paper. The mites were released at various distances and from different positions around the test substance. The tests were conducted at a constant temperature of 25° C.
Mites released at distances of 0.5 and 1 cm. from a piece of skin of a freshly killed mouse were indifferent to its presence. Their tracks showed no relation to the piece of skin (see Fig. 18 A).
The odour of a piece of fresh mouse liver proved equally negative (see Fig. 18 B).
Sebum and cerumen
The odour of hair emanates from the oil secreted by the sebaceous glands which are located around the hair roots. The odour of mouse, rabbit and human hair were tested on the mites but they showed no response (see Fig. 18 C). Complete indifference was also shown towards the odour of human and rabbit cerumen—the waxy secretion of the external meatus—which contains a high percentage of sebum (see Fig. 18 E). Thus cerumen would not appear to play a part in attracting the mites into the ears, which are their characteristic habitats on rabbits.
A small pad of cotton-wool moistened with perspiration taken from the body of a dark-skinned person was placed on a filter-paper. Mites released at distances of 0.5 and 0.25 cm. showed complete indifference, but those which made contact or near contact with the test substance displayed avoiding reactions (see Fig. 18 D). Of 100 mites, placed five at a time, alongside the test substance, forty six exhibited a negative response whilst the remainder were indifferent, although twelve mites crawled on to the cotton pad for a brief period. The presence of decomposition products in the perspiration were probably responsible for repelling the mites. Totze (1933) showed that a high concentration of butyric acid, which is one of these products, repelled ticks. A pad of cotton-wool moistened in this substance was repugnant to the mites.
The results were interesting because they help to explain why some people are not troubled by the attentions of harvest mites. Dark-skinned people, who tend to perspire more than fair-skinned people, are less severely attacked by the mites.
Differences in the composition of the perspiration between one person and another are probably partly responsible for differences in the extent of an attack by the mites, because a few tests indicated that the perspiration of one person was found to be more repugnant than that of another person. For example, only twelve out of 100 mites, placed in batches of five alongside a pad of cotton-wool moistened with perspiration taken from a fair-skinned person, displayed a well-defined avoiding reaction. However, the questions of differences in the degree of repulsion of perspiration of various hosts and of whether dark-skinned people are more immune than fair-skinned people do not come within the scope of the present paper.
Reactions to a young live mouse
A young live mouse was chosen as the most suitable experimental host and placed in the centre of a filter-paper. Mites released at distances of 0.5, 1, 2 and 3 cm. showed complete indifference to its presence. Occasionally individual mites moved towards the mouse and made devious paths under the legs and tail. Even then they usually continued their tracks away from the mouse and towards the edge of the filter-paper. Mites placed in close proximity with the body of the mouse also showed indifference. But on climbing over the mouse and making contact with the skin the mite then displayed the striking behaviour so characteristic of a mite crawling on the hand (see p. 481). It continued crawling at an accelerated pace upon the surface of the body for 30 min. or more (see Fig. 19). On reaching the distal parts of the limbs or tail it as a rule showed no inclination to crawl off to the filter-paper but instead clung tenaciously to the skin and retraced its tracks towards the body.
It was evident from this behaviour that some stimulus other than touch was responsible for causing them to crawl incessantly over the body of the mouse. However, in the odd case when a mite crawled off, it never turned round in an attempt to locate the mouse but instead made tracks towards the edge of the filter-paper. Occasionally a mite climbed back to the mouse after accidentally remaking contact with an outstretched limb. It then crawled incessantly at an accelerated rate over the body for a prolonged period. Mites previously kept on the body of the mouse for 30 min. were placed at appropriate distances from the host, but they, too, showed complete indifference unless they touched it accidentally and climbed upon its body.
It was evident that the mites were incapable of detecting the presence of a young live mouse even when they were almost touching it. But actual contact with the body of the mouse produced a response typified by an immediate increase of pace and a pronounced excitability. The body heat of the mouse, estimated at approximately 35° C., probably accounted for the well-defined accelerated pace and pronounced character of the response. The behaviour closely resembled that displayed by the mite crawling around the base of a glass tube warmed up to a temperature of 35-40° c.
Response to humidity
It is well known that compared with work on the reactions of animals to temperature and light very few observations have been made on responses to humidity. In the natural environment the mites take shelter from excess free water after heavy rain. On wet days any shelter is taken advantage of in the micro-habitat, although most of the mites cannot avoid being washed into the soil. The fact that mites will survive for 4-5 days submerged in water suggests that heavy rains are not a serious handicap to them apart from restricting their movements. The importance of humidity as a limiting factor gave reason to believe that the mites were capable of perceiving variations of the moisture content in the air or soil (Jones, 1950a).
Reactions to atmospheric moisture
For investigating the reaction to a humidity gradient a glass tube 15 cm. long and 1 cm. in diameter was used. A moist pad of cotton-wool at one end and calcium chloride at the other were separated from the introduced mites by plugs of cotton-wool. Mites previously exposed either for 24 hr. at 100% R.H. and room temperature or for 6 hr. at 50% R.H. and 24° C. were placed in the humidity gradient in the tube.
Five tests were made with batches of fifty mites taken from saturated air. The initial phase was characterized by the introduced mites moving actively in all parts of the tube, but whereas they displayed well-marked avoiding reactions to the moist end they climbed upon the cotton pad at the dry end and even pressed themselves between the cotton-wool and the glass tube. In one of the first tests the loose pieces of calcium chloride were not separated from the mite by a pad of cotton-wool. In this case the mites climbed upon the calcium chloride and even settled there. Avoidance of the moist end appeared to be responsible for most of the mites displaying an apparent preference for the dry end. Positional counts made at intervals during the first hour showed that most were recorded at the dry end (see Table 2). It was difficult to account for every mite because many had settled in the cotton-wool. After the first hour a few had settled on the moist pad, but most of them were still active and were wandering to and from the moist end. After 3 hr. there were still a greater number of mites at the dry part, but the number of mites aggregated upon the moist cotton-wool had also increased. After 6 hr. clusters of mites were forming on the moist cotton-wool and few mites were left upon the dry pad. After 24 hr. there was a complete reversal in distribution, practically all the mites having settled at the moist end (see Table 2), where many of them were by this time trapped in condensed moisture. Occasionally mites were trapped after penetrating the cotton pad at the dry end, and after a prolonged period of exposure they died through desiccation. Mites introduced into a tube closed at each end with a moist pad were at first very active and avoided both ends, but after 3 hr. they settled and distributed themselves more or less uniformly (see Table 2). The settled mites showed a tendency to cluster on or near the moist pads, but this could have been accounted for by their becoming trapped in condensed moisture.
Mites previously desiccated for 6 hr. at 50% R.H., 25° C. behaved in a humidity gradient differently from those taken from saturated air. They were very active after release in the tube, but avoidance of the moist end was not so evident. After 1 hr. the mites, now much less active, were more or less uniformly distributed along the gradient. Only a few mites had climbed upon the pad at the dry end. After 3 hr. most of the mites had aggregated at the moist end and clusters had formed on the moist pad (see Table 3).
Observations on the behaviour of normal and desiccated mites in a humidity gradient suggested that the initial distribution of normal mites in the dry region is the result of an avoiding reaction to saturated air. Since desiccated mites did not show this well-marked avoidance of the moist end, the expression of the avoiding reaction would appear to depend on the condition of humidity to which the mites had previously been exposed.
The eventual aggregation, of normal mites after 24 hr. and desiccated mites after 3 hr., at the moist end is due to a forced movement away from the dry region owing to water loss by evaporation through the cuticle. This depletion of the water balance stimulates the mites into activity, the random movements leading them into the moist region where movement is arrested whilst the water balance is restored. Hygrokinesis was more strongly displayed by the desiccated mites, which settled more quickly in the moist region, than by those previously exposed to saturated air. This behaviour of the mites towards humidity closely resembles that of the tick (Lees, 1948) and the spider beetle, Ptinus tectus (Bentley, 1944).
Reaction to free water
A circle of filter-paper was wetted thoroughly at the periphery with a wet camelhair brush. The water film ‘crept’ from the edge towards the centre. Mites were then released at the centre of the filter-paper, and they displayed definite avoiding reactions to the surface film of the barrier ring of water (see Fig. 20).
When the wetting operation was stopped and evaporation of the water from the filter-paper reduced the amount of water in the outer circular area, the mites made devious paths across the moist region towards the edge of the filter-paper.
Humidity and survival
Several workers, including André (1928) and Keay (1937), have emphasized the importance of a high humidity for the successful rearing of the fed larva to the nymphal stage. Results of a previous investigation (Jones, 1950 a) suggested a relationship between a high relative humidity and the distribution of the mites, but the resistance of the mites to dry conditions liable to be encountered in the natural environment remained obscure. Mites were therefore exposed to various air humidities to discover the most favourable one for survival.
The mites were exposed to various humidities in a constant-temperature room at 24° C.
To produce the required humidity appropriate strengths of sulphuric acid were introduced into a series of 21. flasks. Six flasks were prepared with the following range of humidities : 0, 10, 25,50,90, and too %. Each flask was closed with a rubber stopper which carried a glass rod at the end of which was suspended a glass tube cm. long and cm. in diameter. The glass tube was closed above by a rubber stopper and below with a piece of lawn held tightly against the side of the tube by a rubber ring (see Fig. 13). The chamber successfully retained the mites. The flasks were kept in the constant-temperature room for 2 days to allow the humidity in each flask to attain equilibrium before the mites were introduced into the chamber.
Preliminary tests showed that hourly examinations were sufficient, because even at 0% R.H. the mites remained alive for 6 hr. Twenty mites previously exposed to saturated air were introduced into each chamber of the six flasks in six successive humidity tests. When a close examination of the state of the mites was required, the glass tube was quickly removed from the flask and placed under a binocular microscope for as brief a period as possible, during which time the flask was stoppered.
The mites were at first very active at all humidities. After 3 hr. the movement of most of the mites in saturated air was arrested, but at the other humidities the mites were still active. At the lower humidities, 10-50% R.H., they were continually active until the depletion of water through evaporation proved fatal. Desiccation reduced the body size of the mites considerably at the end of 6 hr. at o % R.H. The sustained activity was a response associated with the depletion of the water content. This activity was quite pronounced at 90% R.H., and the survival time was appreciably less than that recorded for mites in saturated air. The average survival times at different humidities are shown in Table 4. It was not difficult to recognize the shrivelled appearance of a desiccated mite when assessing the mortality.
An atmosphere saturated with moisture was clearly the most favourable for survival. The appreciable resistance time of 6 hr. to o and 10% R.H. may have been due to a use of the water phase of the tracheal system. The results of Davies (1928) in his investigations on the effect of various humidities upon the survival of Collembola revealed that tracheate species survived longer than atracheate ones.
Reactions to tactile stimuli
When a quiescent cluster of mites was touched lightly with a dry camel-hair brush the mites immediately quested very actively and showed a remarkable ability for climbing upon the hairs, from which it is difficult to remove them as they cling on tenaciously. The aroused mites will climb upon the wooden handle, and if given the opportunity will transfer themselves in a purposeful way to the fingers. If the mite is retained on the handle or brush part for a prolonged period, it stops more frequently and gradually loses its initial excitability. The behaviour on the warm skin is quite different; with tenacity and at relatively great pace the mite climbs straight from the hand to the arm whether it is held upward or downward. This response to contact with the warm skin is very striking. The photopositive response is certainly obscured by it, since the mite will move from the exposed hand to the darkness of the covered parts of the body—a curious reversal in behaviour towards light in an animal whose unfed state has not changed.
When mites are placed upon the body of a rabbit or mouse they move with remarkable agility from one part of the body to another, and crawl at random for some considerable time before they attach themselves to the skin. During this preattachment phase they suffer a high mortality rate owing to the attentions of the host. Observations of their movements upon the bodies of young mice suggested that a tactile sense was primarily responsible for the clusters upon typical sites of a host. It is significant that inside the ears or around the anus or between the digits are favoured habitats, and one would expect this because by their very nature as ‘niches’ they are most likely to induce contact between the mites.
Mites often aggregate upon the corners of wooden planks or upon fallen branches. When the wooden plank or branch was lightly tapped the resulting vibrations induced an immediate questing response.
The response to contact with each other’s bodies is very noticeable in mites living on the soil, and reference has been made in an earlier paper (Jones, 1950 a) to the part this tactile response plays in the gregarious habit of forming clusters. But the phenomenon of clustering has been given further and separate attention in this paper in its relation to the influence of light, humidity and gravity.
The influence of light
About fifty mites were introduced into a closed tube partly lined with moist filter-paper. Occasionally a few mites were trapped in droplets of water. In the dark room the light of an overhead lamp induced the mites to climb upwards. After a prolonged period of 3 hr. or longer they formed a cluster at the top of the tube, behaviour resembling that of mites in a collecting jar exposed to daylight. A lamp placed at the side or below the glass tube induced the mites to form a cluster at a point nearest to the source of light. The upward-climbing. movement in such cases was not apparent. The results suggested the upward-climbing action to be a response to light intensity. A negative geotactic response, if it does exist, is most certainly weaker than the photopositive response.
The influence of humidity
A wooden rod, supporting at half-way a circle of black filter-paper, 5 cm. in diameter, was glued at one end to the centre of the inside of a blackened Petri dish. Another equal-sized Petri dish, blackened except for a central circular area of about 2 cm. in diameter, was inverted and placed upon the other so that the untreated area was directly above the tip of the vertical wooden rod. They were held together with a strip of adhesive tape. Hence light entered the chamber through the circular window only, and it was conceivable that mites placed upon the suspended filter-paper within the chamber would respond to the light by climbing up the rod. The mites were introduced through a hole in the top Petri dish. The necessary strength of acid was introduced into the chamber to give the required humidity. The arrangement is shown in Fig. 12.
Fifty mites were used for each test, which lasted for at least 8 hr. and if necessary until the following day. At 10 and 50% R.H. the mites were very active and climbed continuously up and down the rod. At 90% R.H. they remained longer at the tip, but no clusters were formed. At 95% R.H. and in saturated air mites aggregated upon the tip and persistent clusters were formed at both humidities.
The influence of gravity
Several workers, including Hindle & Merriman (1912), MacLeod (1935) and Lees (1948), have obtained varying results in testing the response of ticks to gravity. Lees (1948) concluded that ticks placed on a vertical rod displayed a form of negative geotaxis, although occasionally they walked downwards for considerable distances before turning, but if they had recently experienced arrival at the tip of the vertical rod, the turning upwards was enhanced. Since MacLeod (1935) and Lees (1948) found that ticks were photonegative (at variance with the conclusion of Totze (1933), who found them to be photopositive), an explanation for the upward-climbing action of ticks had presumably to be sought in some form of gravity response.
In the case of harvest mites which are strongly photopositive, and sensitive to differences of light intensity, it was not easy to test their responses to gravity. On observing mites in the field, one would be inclined to suggest that some form of negative geotaxis influences the upward-climbing action. But the response to light could equally explain this movement. Therefore gravity tests on the mites had to be arranged with the lighting either evenly distributed in the vertical plane or entirely eliminated. Tests were arranged to determine the distribution of mites upon a vertical rod in uniform lighting at 20° C., 95 % R.H.
The rod, 25 cm. long and 0.3 cm. in diameter, was a thin straight portion of a raspberry cane, which in the natural environment is included among the favoured sites for climbing. The rod was marked at intervals of 1 cm. Glass rods were unsuitable because they acquired a thin film of moisture which impeded the movement of the mites. The rod was retained in position by two entomological pins fixed to an adjacent upright rod. Both rods were enclosed in a glass tube. The required humidity was obtained by lining the glass tube with filter-paper moistened with the appropriate salt solution over part of its surface. This arrangement (see Fig. 21) resembled that of Lees (1948).
The humidity of the air inside the glass tube was allowed to attain equilibrium before each test. Opaque screens were arranged around the apparatus to shield the glass tube from direct lighting, and the light intensity at the bottom and the top of the glass tube was about 300 m.c. The rod was withdrawn; the glass tube was closed with a temporary stopper, and approximately fifty mites were quickly placed upon the rod at the half-way mark, before it was replaced.
Positional counts were then made at suitable intervals, but the total number varied at different intervals, either because some escaped notice, or others had found their way across one of the pins to the supporting rod. Owing to this loss of mites, the total number at the end of a period of about 30 min. was invariably reduced. At the high humidity, one would expect that if some form of negative geotaxis existed, the mites would climb to the tip of the rod, and on contacting each other would aggregate as a cluster. The average results of eight tests are shown in Table 5.
The size and activity of the mites made it difficult to account for the total number during each count, but the figures, expressed as a percentage of each total count, indicate that when the mites are released upon the rod they are more inclined to climb up rather than down the vertical rod during the first 5 min. After this period the counts suggest that the mites distribute themselves fairly evenly along the rod. It was noticed, too, that some were inclined to walk round and round the rod within a restricted range of a few centimetres. On no occasion did the mites form a per-manent cluster at the tip of the rod, although some tests were carried out in darkness for a period of 30 min. before the positions of the mites were examined.
The movements of individual mites were also followed. But the recorded tracks were so divergent in character that it was impossible to interpret them. The only feature which had some consistency was an initial tendency on the part of the mite to climb upwards rather than downwards or round and round one particular part of the vertical rod. One may conclude from the results of the tests that there is no specific indication of a negative geotaxis.
The sense organs
The external characters of systematic value for Trombicula autumnalis have been described by Hirst (1915). In doing so he naturally gave only brief descriptions of the external form of the ocular areas, various setae and their positions on the body, the scutum, and the appendages. Systematists have attached much diagnostic importance to the ciliation of the scutum, especially to the so-called pseudostigmatic setae which, in a somewhat misleading way, they have been inclined to designate specifically as ‘sensilla’, as if the considerable number of other setae present were of little significance as sensory end-organs.
According to the literature no study has been made of the structure and function of the various receptor organs of T. autumnalis, nor as far as I know has anything of the kind been attempted for any species of Trombiculid mite. Unfortunately, the minute size of the harvest mite is not conducive to carrying out elimination experiments, designed on the lines of those by Wigglesworth (1941), to locate the senses. Attempts that were made did not produce any satisfactory results, excepting those of the blinding experiments. But the analysis of the sensory perceptions of the mite justified a detailed examination of the sense organs, and since it had been possible to measure in some degree the intensities of the responses of the mite to various stimuli, it was desirable to try to identify the nature of the stimuli which the different receptor organs were capable of appreciating.
Sense organs in the legs
These sensilla are confined mainly to the dorsal and lateral surfaces of the segments. Whether long or short they are slightly curved and taper to fine points from a base which measures about 2µ in diameter.
In section this type of receptor is shown to arise from a chamber-like structure which penetrates the cuticle. In some sections there appeared to be ridges on the inside of the chamber (see Fig. 22 D). The sections were stained with haematoxylin, but whereas a sensory nerve in the thick-walled hair was well defined, it was difficult to make out a sensory process in the chamber which would link it with the nerve cells below the chamber itself. The nerve cells and their fibres associated with the sensilla were quite pronounced, but no structure resembling a trichogen or tormogen cell was visible in the harvest mite. The structure and the wide distribution of the plumose hairs are typical features of sensilla with a tactile function.
There are fewer of these sensilla and they are located only on the legs and palps. A conspicuous one, about 80µ long, is present near the proximal end of the tarsus of the third leg. Their structure (see Fig. 22 E), apart from the lack of barbs, is similar to that of the plumose setae, which suggests that they too are tactile sensilla.
The peg organs
These organs are quite distinct in shape. There are two types, one with a round tip, the other with a pointed tip. A relatively stout slightly curved peg organ with a round tip is present on the tarsus of the first leg (see Fig. 22 A). Those with pointed tips are more curved and slender.
In section the peg organ is shown to be thin walled (see Fig. 22 B), with a constriction at the base, so that a narrow aperture connects the cavity of the peg with that of the basal chamber which penetrates the cuticle. Below the chamber are sense cells forming a nerve strand that can be traced to the chamber. The cavity of both chamber and peg contained a clear fluid-like substance. A trichogen cell was not associated with the peg organ.
The delicate thin walls, the spacious cavity filled with the vitreous substance and the elongated sense cells closely resemble the peg organs regarded by Wigglesworth (1939) as chemo-receptors. Since its chemical sense is poorly developed, one would not expect the mite to be well equipped with chemo-receptors. On the other hand, its perception of high or low temperatures is quite pronounced, and although the sensitivity to temperature differences is probably distributed over the body of the mite, a possibility is that the pointed peg organs may be temperature receptors.
Minute sensory rods
These minute sensory organs are about 6µ long and 0·5 µ. in diameter (see Fig. 22 E). They arise from a chamber comparable in size to that of the large peg organ. It was extremely difficult to be certain whether or not the end-organ is thin walled. However, there is no sign of a sensory nerve enclosed by thick walls. They are principally confined to the first leg. There is one on each of the three distal segments, and one is also present on the tarsus of the second leg. In some insects such rods are grouped inside sunken epidermal pits and they have an olfactory function.
The trifurcate claw, at the end of each tarsus, consists of a basal part and three very curved distal branches, the middle one being the longest. The proximal part of each branch is dilated (see Fig. 22 E). In section each branch is shown to be thick walled and supplied with a sensory nerve extending to the tip. Within the base of the claw the sensory nerves to the three branches are separate, and each exhibits a dilatation before joining the main nerve of the leg (see Fig. 22 C).
Sense organs on the palps
Most of the sensilla are confined to the papilliform tarsus. Two peg organs are present, one with a round tip and the other with a pointed one (see Fig. 22 A). The concentration of both tactile and chemo-receptor organs on the tarsus (see Fig. 23 C) is to be expected, since the palps play an important role in testing the skin before the digits of the chelicerae are buried in it.
Sense organs elsewhere on the body
Both the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the body are covered with these sensilla. About thirty are arranged in transverse rows on the dorsal surface, excluding those on the scutum, and about the same number are similarly arranged on the ventral surface.
The so-called pseudostigmatic setae usually arise from a mid-position of the scutum. In related genera these organs are club-shaped and closely resemble the similarly termed organs, typical of members of the Oribatidae.
The club-shaped organs of orbatid mites by the nature of their structure were thought by Michael (1883) to be connected with hearing or smell, and he inclined to the former.
The pseudostigmatic organs of T. autumnalis bear no resemblance to the club-shaped organs mentioned. They are, however, quite distinct from the rest of the sensilla so far described. The hair itself is about 70 µ long, very slender, curved and equipped with barbs on the distal portion. The hair arises from a relatively large basal process which fits into the space of the cuticular covering like the ball part of a ball-and-socket joint. In section the basal process is seen to have a spacious chamber about 8 p. in diameter, which is enclosed by the convex dorsal surface and a pronounced concave ventral surface. The inside wall of the chamber is distinctly ridged (see Fig. 23 D). The significant feature is that this basal process, which in transverse section looks like an inverted cup, would appear to be capable of a rotating movement within the socket. Furthermore, this basal process projects into the body cavity. Below each basal process is an aggregation of nerve cells with a thick strand extending to the ventral concave wall. These aggregations of nerve cells are quite close to the dorsally extended parts of the supra-oesophageal ganglia (see Fig. 23 D).
The end-organ is not thin walled, and thus it would seem that when it touches some object the pressure exerted may cause a rotatory movement of the basal process. These stiff setae in their natural position extend well above the other dorsal setae of the body (see Fig. 14). One would therefore expect them to have a sensory perception of touch and probably of vibrations in the air.
The ocular areas
The ocular areas lie on each side of the scutum near the postero-lateral border. In the live mite they appear as two conspicuously red oval patches, but each area is composed of two well-defined eyes, an anterior and a posterior one.
In sagittal section the two distinct eye structures are clearly visible. The cuticle of the anterior one is thickened into a distinct elliptical lens. Below the lens is a well-defined discoid mass of red-pigmented oily substance surrounded by a pronounced dark-coloured, almost black, pigmented cup. The posterior eye is not so well developed. The lens-like cuticle is only about twice the thickness of the normal cuticular covering and half that of the lens of the anterior eye. In a transverse section of the anterior eye, the discoid mass of red-pigmented substance is continuous on both sides, with laterally placed nerve cells (see Fig. 23 B).
It is noticeable that the anterior eye will be exposed to rays of light from many directions, but the posterior one is restricted in its range (see Fig. 23 A). In the case of the better developed anterior eye one may assume that the thickened cuticular covering, acting as a lens, brings the longer light rays to focus on the wall of the pigment cup; and that the shorter light rays after being reflected from the inner surface of the cup are focused on the photosensitive substance.
Identification of the responses
The responses of the hexapod mite to various stimuli have been identified, where possible, according to the classification of Fraenkel & Gunn (1940), because the adoption of some recognized scheme is essential if the expression of results of work on the sensory physiology of invertebrates is to be consistent.
The peculiar questing response of the harvest mite to a sudden decrease of light intensity (shadow reflex), or to vibration, is, like that of the tick, a postural and not a locomotor activity. It cannot therefore be identified with either the random (kineses) or the directed locomotor reactions (taxes) which distinguish the two basic groups of the classification.
A random movement or kinesis involves the stimulation of an animal into locomotor activity, but the body axis of the animal shows no orientation towards or away from the stimulus.
Observations in the field showed that mites of a cluster, after questing in response to shading or vibrations, invariably moved away from the site of the cluster. The questing response of the mite is a prelude to locomotion, and in this respect it closely resembles the behaviour of the tick (Lees, 1948). The forward movement resulting from the stimulatory effect of shading or vibrations is an example of orthokinesis. The activity of desiccated mites in a linear humidity gradient is typical of orthokinesis, the undirected movements eventually leading the mites into the moist region where movement is arrested. The response may also be defined as positive hygrokinesis.
The extent of stimulation by contact with each others bodies leads to low activity, a quiescent state being typical of mites in a cluster. When only the tarsi of mites touch a surface it leads to a high state of activity. On the surface of a collecting jar, or that of the human skin, the intensity of contact stimulation is low because only the tarsi make contact with the surface. The result is a high state of locomotor activity by the mite. This type of tactile response is an example of a low thigmokinesis, because a low intensity of stimulation by contact leads to a high state of activity. The high extent of contact stimulation experienced by the mite pressed between the skin and tight clothing of a human host reduces its locomotor activity. The mite is then induced to plunge the digits of the chelicerae into the skin, thus areas of the body where clothing is tight are typical sites of attack.
The activity of the mite moving at random over the skin of a young live mouse could be interpreted as an example of klinokinesis in response to the warmth of the body. On one occasion a mite traced a much convoluted path in response to two opposing beams of different light intensity (see Fig. 3). But a response of this type was not observed to chemical stimuli or temperature.
Unlike the random movement of the kinesis, a direct reaction or taxis involves the long axis of the body of the animal being orientated in line with a single source of stimulation. A positive or negative response depends on the mite moving towards or away from the stimulus.
The photopositive mite will move along the bisector of two equal intersecting lights before curving towards one of the sources, and when one eyespot is blinded it will make circus movements. Such responses are regarded as denoting phototropotaxis. When the mite is placed in a weak light the tracks at a distance from the source stimulate klinotactic behaviour (see Fig. 1 A). As the mite approaches the source the tracks straighten and tropotaxis is well defined. The reaction is more pronounced in strong light and is also evident in the orientation of the mite towards a laterally presented beam of light. The response to reflected light is an example of skototaxis.
The mite is unable to locate a warmed glass tube or the body of a young live mouse. The avoiding responses to volatile substances, perspiration, high humidity, the darkened portion of a linear light-intensity gradient, and low and high temperatures outside a preferred zone, are all examples of negative responses to various stimuli.
The significance of the responses in the natural environment with respect to acquiring a host
The analysis of the sensory perceptions of the mite suggests that its behaviour in the natural environment is a series of simple responses to stimuli which form the complex pattern of the micro-habitat. It is clear, however, that the intensity of response to different stimuli varies, the response to mammal skin, for example, dominating the positive response to light when the combined stimuli are offered.
One would expect the behaviour of a potential parasite living freely on the soil to be designed for acquiring a host, and hence that the stimuli encountered by the unfed mite in the natural environment would be of value in this respect. When dry conditions prevail the locomotor activity of the mites over the surface of the soil or lowlying vegetation is almost exploratory in character, but there is nothing to suggest that this behaviour is directed towards seeking a host as suggested by some observers. In describing the movements as representing a trial and error method it would be reasonable to infer the activity of the mite to be a series of avoiding reactions, the mite being led into more favourable situations by moving away from those which induce a negative response. This behaviour would explain the restriction of mites to the moister pockets of the macro-habitat.
The mites are unable to withstand prolonged exposure to low humidities and are thus confined to moist habitats. This is due to the high permeability of the cuticle to water, since mites soon shrivel up if kept in a dry Petri dish exposed to the heat of strong sunlight. Depletion of the normal water content stimulates the mite to activity in the natural environment, locomotor activity being maintained until the mite enters by chance a moister part where the rate of movement is slowed down. When the macro-climate is dry desiccation certainly prevents the mites from climbing upwards very far from the soil. Should they climb a twig or dead leaf they encounter dry air which induces a high locomotor activity, and this will lead them back to the moist soil to replenish any loss of water by evaporation. It is significant that mites are difficult to locate when the soil is dry.
We may therefore deduce that the chances of a mite encountering a host are considerably lessened in dry conditions. Butwhen climatic conditions are favourable, for example, overnight rain followed by spells of warm sunshine, the combined stimuli of warmth, fluctuating light and high humidity induce the mites in the micro-habitat to form clusters. The warmth stimulates the mites into activity, the sunlight induces the upward-climbing response, and the high humidity of the air allows the mites to reach the uppermost parts of the soil, dead leaves, twigs and lowlying vegetation without losing water by evaporation. The mites are drawn up from the soil, but a single mite will seldom remain alone upon the uppermost point of its immediate surroundings. It will climb down and then up to the tip of an adjacent rise in the soil, a twig or dead leaf. Mites of a concentrated pocket will, however, usually encounter each other at high points of the micro-habitat. On touching each other they become still and form a quiescent cluster. Individual mites join up at the fringe until the cluster in parts may be formed of two or three layers of mites. It was noticeable that warm spells of sunshine, provided the humidity of the air was favourable, invariably induced clustering. The aggregated mites usually rested upon a lump of soil, a twig, or a leaf in a direct line with the sun, which often meant that clusters were not always formed upon the uppermost points available on the material supporting them. Such behaviour is readily demonstrated in the laboratory by mites transferred to a piece of crumpled filter-paper illuminated from the side by a lamp. The mites aggregate in positions, nearest to the source of light, irrespective of whether they are the highest points available. In the natural environment the mites showed a predilection for resting upon the sharp edges of the supporting material.
The formation of clusters at some distance above the soil would give the mite the best opportunity of encountering a host. It is significant that clusters, once formed, will persist after dusk. The gradual decrease of light intensity has no influence upon the mites, since the high intensity of stimulation by contact with each other keeps the cluster intact. This persistence after dusk synchronizes with the movements of rabbits, field mice, bank voles and other common hosts mainly nocturnal in their habits. During daytime, birds, domestic animals and some wild animals are the potential hosts. But the mites on attaining a favourable position must still depend on the chance approach of a suitable host.
The response either to shading or to vibrations is clearly one of preparedness. A potential host casts a shadow across a cluster of mites, and a quiescent cluster would be transformed into a mass of questing appendages. Shading will also stop a mite in its tracks ; the body rests on the substratum and all the legs are directed upwards. The questing response of mites to vibrations may have great value at night when leaves and twigs, infested with clusters, are disturbed by nocturnal hosts.
Certain sensory perceptions which might be of value in locating a warm-blooded host are not possessed by the mite. It is incapable of orientating towards a host by detecting the warmth or odour emanating from the body; but on touching a moving object, inanimate or otherwise, the mite displays a remarkable ability for clinging to it. If the mite touches the skin it shows a well-defined response to body heat as shown by tests with a live mouse. The intensity of the response to the skin of the host is so strong that the natural positive response of the mite to light is submerged, the avoiding reaction to darkness entirely disappearing. Hence the readiness of the mite to move unhesitatingly to the covered parts of the human body. The role of the olfactory sense probably becomes more evident on close contact with the skin, and the negative response to perspiration, varying in intensity according to the host, partly explains the apparent preference by the mite for one person more than another.
On the host itself the mites maintain a high state of activity for a varying period of time. During this pre-attachment phase there is a heavy mortality rate owing to scratching by the host. Those mites survive which eventually reach and attach themselves to parts of the body where they escape the attentions of the host. Keay (1937) gives a list of habitats on both mammal and bird hosts: inside the ears, between the digits, and around the anus being typical sites. The ankles, groin, waist, axillae and neck are favoured regions of attack on the human body. These are areas where the clothing is usually more tightly pressed against the skin, and the mite in such areas, by moving in a restricted space, becomes still in response to a high intensity of stimulation by contact. The palps are applied to the surface of the skin, the body is tilted and the cheliceral digits are buried into the horny layer (Jones, 19506).
The mite feeds for about 3 days before detaching itself. The engorged mite climbs over the surface of the body before eventually dropping to the soil. Its further existence depends entirely upon the moisture content of the soil. In the laboratory engorged mites transferred to the surface of soil penetrate downwards; thus it is conceivable that under favourable conditions little or no lateral movement on the surface of the soil precedes this apparent photonegative and photopositive geotactic behaviour. The return to the cool soil from the warmth of the body is evidence of a complete reversal of behaviour when the physiological state of the mite has changed. This penetration down into the soil is most probably a response to humidity, because recently fed mites are photopositive (see Fig. 24).
Development to the nymphal stage will only take place under very moist conditions, and since the transition stage exists, for a period of about a month under natural conditions, as a form incapable of locomotion, it is understandable that deep penetration of the soil is essential to counteract desiccation. It is one of the striking features of the life cycle of T. autumnalis that the ectoparasitic larva is followed by a nymph and adult which lead a permanent hypogeal existence below the surface of the soil.
I wish to thank Prof. Ritchie for his helpful criticism and interest, and to acknowledge the friendly discussions I had with the late Dr Gross on this work. Miss Catherine Hay kindly helped to prepare some of my sectioned material.