An introduction to Malaconothrus
Published 20 December 2011
Malaconothrus is a genus of about sixty species of oribatid mites found almost worldwide. The only continent from which Malaconothrus species have not yet been recorded is Antarctica, though M. translamellatus is known from Île Amsterdam in the subantarctic Indian Ocean (Subías 2004). Malaconothrus species specialise in damp habitats, often found among moss or in marshes. They are small yellowish mites, often covered with an ornamented cerotegument (a thick waxy cuticle) (Luxton 1987). They are also parthenogenetic, with females laying unfertilised eggs that hatch into more females.
Malaconothrus belongs to a group of oribatids called the Crotonioidea (often also referred to as nothroids). Because crotonioids are long-lived, slow-breeding and poor dispersers, they have received a certain amount of attention as potential indicators of environment health. In the context of the post linked to above, crotonioids are part of the Desmonomata, so outside the large oribatid clade of the Circumdehiscentiae or Brachypylina*. They have broad genital and anal plates that take up the greater part of the underside behind the legs (Balogh & Balogh 1992). Malaconothrus and its most closely related genus, Trimalaconothrus, differ from other crotonioids in having a band of soft cuticle across the underside between the levels of the second and third legs, i. e. they are dichoid rather than holoid (Norton 2001). They also lack bothridia, specialised enlarged sensory setae that are present at the rear of the prodorsum in the majority of oribatids. Malaconothrus and Trimalaconothrus are distinguished from each other by Malaconothrus having one claw at the end of each leg, while Trimalaconothrus has three. Subías (2004) divided Malaconothrus between two subgenera: in Cristonothrus, the dorsum is divided by a pair of longitudinal ridges, but in Malaconothrus sensu stricto there are no dorsal ridges.
*For some reason, oribatids seem to suffer something of an embarrassment of higher taxon names.
Malaconothrus has suffered a certain degree of confusion about its type status (Luxton 1987). When he first established Malaconothrus in 1904 (as a subgenus of Lohmannia), Berlese only listed one name in explicit combination, Lohmannia (Malaconothrus) egregia. However, in his discussion of this species, Berlese compared it to the pre-existing Nothrus monodactylus in a manner that implied the latter should also be included in his new subgenus. Subsequent authors have disagreed over whether L. egregia or N. monodactylus should be regarded as the type species of Malaconothrus, though more recent authors have settled on the latter.
Balogh, J., & P. Balogh. 1992. The Oribatid Mites Genera of the World vol. 1. Hungarian Natural History Museum: Budapest.
Balogh, P. 1997. New species of oribatids (Acari) from the neotropical region. Opusc. Zool. Budapest 29–30: 21–30.
Luxton, M. 1987. Mites of the genus Malaconothrus (Acari: Cryptostigmata) from the British Isles. Journal of Natural History 21 (1): 199–206.
Subías, L. S. 2004. Listado sistemático, sinonímico y biogeográfico de los ácaros oribátidos (Acariformes, Oribatida) del mundo (1758–2002). Graellsia 60 (número extraordinario): 3–305.