Taxonomic placing: Acari, Parasitiformes, Mesostigmata.

Common name: Phytoseiid mites.

Geographical distribution: World-wide, with about 2,500 described species.

Economic importance: This family contains several important natural enemies of plant pests, especially spider mites (Tetranychidae), false spider mites (Tenuipalpidae), rust and gall mites (Eriophyidae), whiteflies and thrips (Thysanoptera). The Phytoseiidae are therefore very important in the biological control (whether natural or humanly-instigated) of such pests. Most species can easily be reared in large numbers in the laboratory and several are in international commerce (for instance, BioBee in Israel (at http://www.biobee.com/).

Morphology: Phytoseiids bear an entire dorsal plate with less than 23 pairs of setae. The stigmata open between legs III and IV and the metasternal plates are small. The legs are undifferentiated, usually with two claws and an empodium, and the digits of the male spermadactyls are distally free.

Life cycle: Phytoseiids, fast-moving, proactive predators, live on plants and in the upper soil layers. They mostly attack mites, but also small insects, nematodes and fungi, and may feed on plants, including pollen and extrafloral nectaries. Most species develop within a week at 27°C and 60-90% relative humidity and usually deposit 30-40 eggs per female. Sex determination in most phytoseiids is by parahaploidy (a few species are thelytokous) and the sex ratio in the field is around 0.75. The males locate females by a pheromone. Phytoseiids survive winters either by going into a facultative reproductive diapause (induced by a short daylight and low temperatures) or by being resistant to low temperatures. Phytoseiids disperse by running on leaves, walking along spider mite webs, crawling on the soil and while borne on air streams. Dispersal by winds is due to prey depletion; the mites (mostly young, mated females) moving onto exposed surfaces and placing themselves in a position to be lifted by air currents. Once on plants the predators are attracted to their prey by volatiles emitted by the pest-damaged foliage as well as to spider mite cues, such as the webbing and other residues.

Biological control-oriented studies on the Phytoseiidae began only at the close of the Second World War, when outbreaks of spider mites that followed the introduction of synthetic pesticides on commercial crops indicated the paramount importance of these predators. The ability of Phytoseiidae to develop resistance to pesticides contributed to their continuing use in biological control and integrated pest management (IPM) projects.

The diversity of feeding habits and life history traits of the Phytoseiidae indicated placing them in four very extended categories, a grouping that could be used when selecting these predators for specific biological control purposes. Type I consists only of Phytoseiulus persimilis and its cogeners, all specialized predators of heavily-webbing spider mites, mostly Tetranychus spp. Type II species feed on spider mites, but are not restricted to Tetranychus spp, devouring also spider mites that produce little webbing [e.g. the European red mite, Panonychus ulmi, as well as other small mites and pollen. Type III species are generalists that often prefer prey other than spider mites (e.g. tarsonemids and thrips. Type IV phytoseiids are generalists that develop and reproduce best on pollen, feeding also on plant juices.

Phytoseiidae included in this compendium

Amblyseius swirskii Athias-Henriot.

Cydnoseius negevi (Swirski and Amitai).

Euseius scutalis (Athias-Henriot).

Iphiseius degenerans (Berlese).

Neoseiulus spp.

Typhlodromus athiasae Porath and Swirski.

Phytoseiulus persimilis Athias-Henriot.


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