Simognathus

Dorsum of Simognathus glaber, from Luxton (1990). Scale bar = 100 µm.

Belongs within: Halacaridae.

Mites of marine sands
Published 27 January 2020

Mites may be the most ecologically diverse group of animals on the planet. It is something of a challenge to think of a habitat supporting complex life in which mites may not be found. Nevertheless, it can fairly be said that the marine environment has provided them with a challenge. Though a wide variety of mites can be found in habitats along the shoreline, few lineages have learnt to make a life for themselves beyond the littoral fringe. The most diverse group of truly marine mites is the Halacaridae, of which the genus Simognathus is a representative.

Simognathus sp., from Banks (1915).

Halacarids are notably armoured mites, their bodies protected by an array of reticulate plates. They are found in a wide range of marine habitats and pursue the gamut of lifestyles: representatives of halacarids include algal grazers, micropredators, and parasites. Despite their aquatic lifestyle, they are not swimmers. Instead, they cling to their substrate and crawl slowly on legs bearing large claws. The diversity of halacarid morphologies is reflected in their classification with over a dozen subfamilies currently recognised.

Simognathus is a genus of halacarids found around the world though the greater diversity of species are known from the Southern Hemisphere. They are found at depths ranging from near the low tide mark to around 500 m, and from the full range of tropical, warm-temperate and cold-temperate waters. Bartsch (2005) speculated that the only reason they are not known from even colder waters may be a question of sampling effort rather than true absence. Most Simognathus species are known to live among coarse sand, or in other interstitial microhabitats such as among coral rubble, among colonies of sessile animals such as barnacles or tubeworms, or within algal holdfasts. I haven’t come across any specific comments on their diet but their robust chelicerae and grasping fore legs leads me to suspect that Simognathus species are probably micropredators.

Simognathus and the closely related genus Acaromantis form the subfamily Simognathinae. Simognathines differ from other halacarids in their spindle-shaped body with short rostrum, reflecting their interstitial habitat. The first leg ends in a pincer arrangement formed from the terminal claw and a spine on the underside of the tibia. Acaromantis species have a two-segmented palp, no lateral claws at the end of the first leg, and a spinose seta on the genu (the segment between the femur and tibia) of the first leg. Simognathus species have a three-segmented palp, a pair of slender lateral claws on the first leg as well as the terminal claw, and no spinose seta on the first genu. The defining features of Simognathus are all likely to be primitive relative to those of Acaromantis and it has been suggested for some time that Acaromantis may be a derived subgroup of Simognathus. This suggestion is bolstered by a recent molecular analysis of halacarids by Pepato et al. (2018) which found the two Simognathus representatives included to be paraphyletic to the included species of Acaromantis.

Systematics of Simognathus
<==Simognathus Trouessart 1889H98
|--*S. minutus (Hodge 1863) [=Pachygnathus minutus]L90
|--S. andrei Monniot 1961M62
|--S. delicatulus Bartsch 1994H98
|--S. gibberosus Bartsch 1994H98
|--S. glaber Bartsch 1986L90
|--S. glareus Bartsch 1986L90
|--S. gracilis Bartsch 1994H98
|--S. maculatus Bartsch 1994H98
|--S. sculptus (Brady 1875)SL71
|--S. scutatus Bartsch 1993H98
|--S. uniscutatus Bartsch 1994H98
`--S. variolosus Bartsch 1994H98

*Type species of generic name indicated

References

Bartsch, I. 2005. Lohmannella and Simognathus (Halacaridae: Acari) from Western Australia: description of two new species and reflections on the distribution of these genera. Records of the Western Australian Museum 22: 293–307.

[H98] Halliday, R. B. 1998. Mites of Australia: A checklist and bibliography. CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood.

[L90] Luxton, M. 1990. The marine littoral mites of the New Zealand region. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 20 (4): 367–418.

[M62] Monniot, F. 1962. Recherches sur les graviers a Amphioxus de la région de Banyuls-sur-Mer. Vie et Milieu 13: 231–322.

Pepato, A. R., T. H. D. A. Vidigal & P. B. Klimov. 2018. Molecular phylogeny of marine mites (Acariformes: Halacaridae), the oldest radiation of extant secondarily marine animals. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 129: 182–188.

[SL71] Spain, A. V., & M. Luxton. 1971. Catalog and bibliography of the Acari of the New Zealand subregion. Pacific Insects Monograph 25: 179–226.

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