Acarology is the scientific study of a particular sub family of arachnids that contains mites and ticks. It is not a very often publicized area of study, and there are very few scientists who study it compared to most other zoological or biological fields of science. The primary areas of focus with this area of science are actually very varied, and deal with things such as reducing the damage that mites can cause to crops. And the roles that mites play in the eco-systems in which they live.
There are around 50,000 species already discovered, which vary in size from around 0.5mm to around 25mm. And it has been suggested that there are still thousands more waiting to be discovered as well. Common species encountered include deer ticks, fleas and red spider mites, although there are also many more that most people will never see because of their size or location.
Due to the large diversity of this family, acrologists (scientists specialized in this field of study) have created a rather complex system to classify the different species. There are three main broad categories; there are the Acariformes, Parasitiformes, and Opilioacariformes.
The Acriformes are similar in most respects to how most people would imagine mites. They are the largest sub group and have over 30,000 species. Things such as velvet, spider and common dust mites are all members of this family. They generally eat rotting vegetation, algae and fungus. Although some of them are parasites and a few are predators as well. The most well-known and probably common member of this family is the dust mite, that inhabit most human dwellings. They eat tiny particles found in dust, most often human skin. Although they don’t eat healthy tissue, only pieces of skin that we naturally shed every day. In fact a single human can support a population of over 1 million dust mites at any one time.
The Parisitiformes as the name suggests are mainly thought to be parasites. However most of the species that have been discovered so far live in decaying leaf litter and wood. There are also predatory species in this sub order, and are some that feed on algae and decaying matter. However the most well known species of this order are ticks that are exclusively parasitic. They latch onto a larger animal and drink the blood of the animals until they are full. It has been suggested that there are an estimated 100,000 species at least of parisitiformes. Which means that less then a tenth have yet been discovered by science.
The last sub family is the Opilioacariformes, which are different to other ticks in that they have disproportionately long legs and small bodies. They in fact resemble harvestmen, (also called daddy long legs), although are generally much smaller. They also feed on a range of materials within the sub group. Some are active predators and will eat other kinds of mites, where some eat fungus and decaying matter or algae. The majority of them appear to be parasitic in nature, which is why this category is argued by some to simply be a branch of parisitiformes rather than a separate family.