Acarology Department


Afroleius simplex Mahunka, 1984

The Acarology Department (study of mites) came into existence as an independent department at the National Museum in 1969. Prof. R. van Pletzen, former Head of Zoology at the University of the Free State, started oribatid mite taxonomy research at the university. One of his students, Dr C.M. Engelbrecht, took up a post at the National Museum in 1969 and continued the research at the Museum. The research focus at the University changed and the collection of specimens and literature was donated to the Museum. Dr Engelbrecht collected widely throughout South Africa, augmenting the collection fourfold. Research is mainly focussed on taxonomy of Oribatida.

What are oribatid mites?

Oribatid mites, also known as soil mites or moss mites, belong to the Class Arachnida, Subclass Acari, Suborder Oribatida (=Cryptostigmata). They range in size from 0.3 - 0.7 mm (with extremes from 0.15 - 2 mm) and occur mainly in the top layer of soil and plant litter, where they occur in large numbers. Abundance and diversity of oribatids vary greatly according to soil conditions. Certain species are also adapted to live on plants, in mosses and lichens and in the marine littoral zone. Soil mites are mostly particle-feeding saprophages (feeding on decaying organic matter) and mycophages (fungus-eating), thereby playing an important role in decomposition of organic material, soil fertility, nutrient cycling and soil formation.