For some reason, I sometimes just don’t have the stamina I recall having when in my 20s. So, it is not uncommon for me to take short breaks where I just stand still. Such was the case this last week while looking in our woods for great places to plant Spice bush [Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume]. It’s a great medium sized shrub, gets to about 18 feet, has berries which at least 24 species of birds find delicious; with leaves deer and the caterpillars of the Spicebush swallowtail butterfly find tasty.
This was a solo planting adventure which meant no camera long. It was enough carrying a five gallon bucket of seedlings in water and the planting bar. Didn’t need to be worrying about safeguarding a camera.
Naturally, when taking a break, glancing down at a lichen and moss covered rock, I saw them, the Red Velvet Mites. And no camera.
I first came across them the previous spring, took some photos, but they were blurry. That didn’t help me identify them, but other people suggested they might be red velvet mites. Fortunately I was only a few minutes from the house. I got the camera. Back to the rock. Forgot the macro lens. Back to the house, got the macro lens. Back to the rock. No mites. Now I needed a break from my break. Sat down on the rock. Maybe they were in the leaves. Swiped my hand through the leaves around the rock. Aha! there they were. Two climbed up on the rock. Perfect. Stood up, turned, kneeled and got some good pictures.
They are only about an eighth of an inch long and move very quickly. Those two projections at the front that look like antennae are actually the first pair of legs. They have four pairs of legs, eight legs, the same number as spiders. But unlike spiders, they do not have two distinct body areas.
These particular mites are good guys. Most gardeners and farmers only have experience with the “bad” mites, the spider mites that damage crops and decorative plants. The Red Velvet Mite larvae, which have six legs, are external parasites of insects, spiders, daddy-long-legs and scorpions. As adults they feed on suitable insect eggs, which makes them our friends.
It was good to see them again and I did eventually get all the spice bush planted. With only a few more breaks.