Phoretic Mites Associated With Animal and Human Decomposition

Exp Appl Acarol. 2009 Oct;49(1-2):85-124. doi: 10.1007/s10493-009-9280-0. Epub 2009 Jun 26.


Phoretic mites are likely the most abundant arthropods found on carcases and corpses. They outnumber their scavenger carriers in both number and diversity. Many phoretic mites travel on scavenger insects and are highly specific; they will arrive on a particular species of host and no other. Because of this, they may be useful as trace indicators of their carriers even when their carriers are absent. Phoretic mites can be valuable markers of time. They are usually found in a specialised transitional transport or dispersal stage, often moulting and transforming to adults shortly after arrival on a carcase or corpse. Many are characterised by faster development and generation cycles than their carriers. Humans are normally unaware, but we too carry mites; they are skin mites that are present in our clothes. More than 212 phoretic mite species associated with carcases have been reported in the literature. Among these, mites belonging to the Mesostigmata form the dominant group, represented by 127 species with 25 phoretic mite species belonging to the family Parasitidae and 48 to the Macrochelidae. Most of these mesostigmatids are associated with particular species of flies or carrion beetles, though some are associated with small mammals arriving during the early stages of decomposition. During dry decay, members of the Astigmata are more frequently found; 52 species are phoretic on scavengers, and the majority of these travel on late-arriving scavengers such as hide beetles, skin beetles and moths. Several species of carrion beetles can visit a corpse simultaneously, and each may carry 1-10 species of phoretic mites. An informative diversity of phoretic mites may be found on a decaying carcass at any given time. The composition of the phoretic mite assemblage on a carcass might provide valuable information about the conditions of and time elapsed since death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology
  • Biodiversity
  • Forensic Sciences
  • Humans
  • Mites / classification
  • Mites / physiology*
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Time Factors