Acarology Unit, Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada,
Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada K1A 0C6


Oribatida, (also called Cryptostigmata) are one of the most numerically dominant arthropod groups in the organic horizons of most soils, where their densities can reach several hundred thousand individuals per square meter (Norton 1990). Undisturbed soils can easily yield examples of 50-100 species. Oribatid mites have five active postembryonic instars: larva, 3 nymphal instars and the adult. All these stages feed on a wide variety of material including living and dead plant and fungal material, lichens and carrion, some are predaceous; but none is parasitic; and feeding habits may differ between immatures and adults of the same species (Siepel 1990). Oribatid mites generally have low metabolic rates, slow development and low fecundity. Species are iteroparous with adults living a relatively long time (Norton 1994), for example, estimates of development time from egg to adult vary from several months to two years in temperate forest soils (Luxton 1981).

Oribatida influence decomposition and soil structure by shredding and feeding on fungi and dead organic matter. Their faecal pellets provide a large surface area for primary decomposition by bacteria and fungi, and are in turn an integral component of soil structure. Oribatida also disperse bacteria and fungi, both externally on their body surface, or by feeding, with subsequent survival of spores during passage through their alimentary tracts. Many oribatid species sequester calcium and other minerals in their thickened cuticle. Recent reviews on the role of Oribatida in decomposition and nutrient cycling include those of Seastedt (1984) and Norton (1986), and their role as bioindicators in agriculture has been reviewed by Behan-Pelletier (1999).

Astigmata, now considered highly derived Oribatida (Norton 1998), are not treated in this review because their life-history traits differ from those of other Oribatida (Norton 1994).

Review of Recent Research

Danks' (1979) review of Canada's arthropod fauna has played a pivotal role in expanding awareness of the state of knowledge of Canadian mites: various experts conducted a census and provided a baseline against which to measure growth in our knowledge of taxonomy, biogeography, evolutionary biology and ecology. Information on the taxonomy and distribution of Oribatida in Canada to 1986 is easily accessible in the excellent catalogue of the Oribatida of the United States and Canada (Marshall et al. 1987). Distributions of species shown in these pages are based on this work, subsequent published taxonomic revisions, and faunistic and ecological studies listed in the References. Data on distribution are summarized by province.

Oribatida are the soil mite group for which most taxonomic, chorological and ecological data are available, yet, we estimate we still know only a quarter of the Canadian fauna at the species level. Recent ecological studies on these groups in Canada, although limited, are much more extensive than for any other non-pest soil arthropods.

We provide illustrated regional lists for each province and territory. The Image Library may be useful as an identification guide.Check boxes are found beside the species names throughout the Image Library and beside several of the species in the provincial lists. By clicking these boxes and then clicking on the bar at the bottom of each page, enlarged images of the selected species will be displayed on a new page. A maximum of 45 species can be selected at one time.

References and further reading

  • Battigelli, J.P., Berch, S.M. and Marshall, V.G. (1994): Soil fauna communities in two distinct but adjacent forest types on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. - Can. J. For. Res., 24(8): 1557-1566.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 1986. Ceratozetidae (Acari: Oribatei) of the western North American subarctic. Can. Ent. 118: 991-1057.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 1987a. Suborder Oribatida (or Cryptostigmata). Pp. 30-39 in The insects, spiders and mites of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Biosystematics Research Centre Report 1. 302pp.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 1987b. Redefinition of Ametroproctus (Acari: Oribatida) with descriptions of new species. Can. Ent. 119: 505-536.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. 1987c. Oribatida of the Haynes Lease Ecological Reserve, B.C. Arthropods of Canadian Grasslands Newsletter 4: 4,5.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 1988a. Systematic relationships of Ametroproctus, with modified definition of Cymbaeremaeidae (Acari: Oribatida). Pp. 301- 307 in Channabasavanna, G. P. and C. A Viraktamath, (Eds.) Progress in Acarology Vol. 1 Oxford and IBH Publishing Co. PVT. Ltd., New Delhi. 523pp.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1988b. Redefinition of Zachvatkinibates (Acari: Mycobatidae), with description of a new species. Can. Ent. 120: 797-813.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 1989a. Limnozetes (Acari: Oribatida: Limnozetidae) of northeastern North America. Can. Ent. 121: 453-506.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1989b. Description of Scapuleremaeus kobauensis gen. nov. sp. nov. (Acari:Oribatida: Cymbaeremaeidae) from western Canada. Can. Ent. 121: 507-513.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1990. Redefinition of Megeremaeus (Acari: Megeremaeidae) with description of new species, and nymphs of M. montanus Higgins and Woolley. Can. Ent. 122: 875-900.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1993a. Eremaeidae (Acari:Oribatida) of North America. Mem. ent. Soc. Canada 168: 193 p.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1993b. Diversity of soil arthropods in Canada: systematic and ecological problems. Mem. ent. Soc. Canada 165:11-50.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1994a. Mycobates (Acari: Oribatida: Mycobatidae) of North America. Can. Ent. 126: 1301-1361.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1994b. Feature species: Diapterobates notatus: an arctic oribatid mite. Arctic Insect News, 5:15-16.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1997a. Naiazetes reevesi n.g., n. sp., (Acari: Oribatida: Zetomimidae) from semi-aquatic habitats of eastern North America. Acarologia, 37:345-355.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. 1997b. The semi-aquatic genus Tegeocranellus (Acari: Oribatida: Ameronothroidea) of North and Central America. Canadian Entomologist 129:537-577.
  • Behan-Pelletier,V.M.1998. Oribatid mites (Acari: Oribatida) of the Yukon. Pp. 115-149 in H. V. Danks and A. D. Downes (eds.) Insects of the Yukon. Biological Survey of Canada Monograph Series No. 2.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 1999. Oribatid mite biodiversity in agroecosystems: role for bioindication. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 74:411-423.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 2000a. Oribatid mite fauna of northern ecosystems: a product of evolutionary adaptations or physiological restraints? Pp. 87-106 in Needham, G.R., Mitchell, R., Horn D. J. and Welbourn, W. C. Proc. X International Acarology Congress, Columbus, Ohio. Publ. Ohio Biological Survey.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. 2000b. Ceratozetidae (Acari: Oribatida) of arboreal habitats. Canadian Entomologist. 132:153-182.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 2001. Project Update: Arthropod fauna of Soils 2001. Newsletter of the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods), 20(2): 51-57.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. 2003. Acari and Collembola Biodiversity in Canadian agricultural soils. Canadian Journal of Soil Science. 83:279-288.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. and B. Bissett. 1994. Oribatida of Canadian peatlands. Mem. ent. Soc. Canada. 169: 73-88.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. and B. Eamer, 2003. Zetomimidae (Acari: Oribatida) of North America. Book chapter in Smith, I. M. (Ed.). An Acarological Tribute to David Cook. Indira Publishing House. 21-56.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M. and N. A. Ryabinin, 1991. Taxonomy and biogeography of Proteremaeus (Acari: Oribatida: Eremaeidae). Can. Ent. 123:559-565.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M. and N.A. Rjabinin, 1991. Description of Sacculozetes filosus gen. nov., sp. nov. and Guatemalozetes danos sp. nov.(Acari: Oribatida) from grassland habitats. Can. Ent. 123:1135-1147.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V. M., and N. N. Winchester. 1998. Arboreal oribatid mite diversity: colonizing the canopy. Applied Soil Ecology 9:45-51.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M., Eamer, B. and Clayton, M. 2001. Mycobatidae (Acari: Oribatida) of Pacific Northwest Canopy Habitats. The Canadian Entomologist. 133:755-776.
  • Behan-Pelletier, V.M., Clayton, M. and Humble, L. 2002. Parapirnodus (Acari: Oribatida: Scheloribatidae) of canopy habitats in western Canada. Acarologia. 42:75-88.
  • Bird, G.A. and I. Chatarpaul, 1986. Effect of whole-tree and conventional forest harvest on soil microarthropods. Can. J. Zool. 64: 1986-1993.
  • Clapperton, M.J., D.A. Kanashiro, and V. M. Behan-Pelletier, 2002. Changes in abundance and diversity of microarthropods associated with two Fescue Prairie grazing regimes. Pedobologia 46:496-511.
  • Colloff, M.J. 1993. A taxonomic revision of the oribatid mite genus Camisia (Acari: Oribatida). J. Nat. Hist., 27: 1325-1408.
  • Coupland, R.T. (Ed.) 1979. Grassland ecosystems of the world: analysis of grasslands and their uses. International Biological Program 18, Cambridge University Press, London.
  • Danks, H.V. (Ed.) 1979. Canada and its insect fauna. Mem. ent. Soc. Can. 108. 573pp.
  • Dwyer, E., Larson, D.J. and Thompson, I.D. 1997. Oribatida (Acari) in balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.)) forests of Western Newfoundland. Can. Entomol., 129(1): 151-170.
  • Dwyer, E., Larson, D.J. and Thompson, I.D. 1998. Oribatid mite communities of old balsam fir (Abies balsamea (L.)) forests of Western Newfoundland, Canada. Pedobiologia, 42(4): 331-347.
  • Kevan, P.G., B.C. Forbes, S.M. Kevan and V. M. Behan-Pelletier, 1995. Vehicle tracks on high Arctic tundra: their effects on the soil, vegetation, and soil arthropods. J. Applied Ecology. 32:655-667.
  • Lawrence, J.M. 1986. Soil fauna colonization of high elevation coal mine spoils in the Canadian Rockies. Unpubl. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Victoria, 118pp.
  • Lindo, Z and S. Visser 2004. Forest floor microarthropod abundance and oribatid mite (Acari: Oribatida) composition following partial and clear-cut harvesting in the mixedwood boreal forest. Can. J. For. Res. 34:998-1006.
  • Marshall, V.G., R.M. Reeves and R.A. Norton, 1987. Catalogue of the Oribatida (Acari) of continental United States and Canada. Mem. ent. Soc. Can. 139. 418pp. Website:
  • Niedbala, W. 2002. Ptyctimous mites (Acari, Oribatida) of the Nearctic region. - Monographs of the Upper Silesian Museum, Bytom, Poland, 4: 1-261.
  • Norton, R.A. 1985. Aspects of the biology and systematics of soil arachnids, particularly saprophagous and mycophagous mites. Quaest. Ent. 21: 523-542.
  • Norton, R. A. and V.M. Behan-Pelletier 1986. Systematic relationships of Propelops, with a modification of family-group taxa in Phenopelopoidea (Acari: Oribatida). Can. J. Zool. 64: 2370-2383.
  • Norton, R.A., V.M. Behan-Pelletier and H-f. Wang,1996. The aquatic oribatid mite genus Mucronothrus in Canada and western USA (Acari: Trhypochthoniidae). Can. J. Zool. 74:926-949.
  • Norton, R.A., D.D. Williams, I.D. Hogg, and S.C. Palmer, 1988a. Biology of the oribatid mite Mucronothrus nasalis (Acari: Oribatida: Trhypochthoniidae) from a small coldwater springbrook in eastern Canada. Can. J. Zool. 66: 622-629.
  • Olszanowski, Z., Clayton, M.R. and Humble, L.M. 2002. New species of the genus Camisia (Acari: Oribatida): an arboreal mite with enclosed sensilli. The Canadian Entomologist, 134: 707-721.
  • Palmer, S.C. and R. A. Norton, 1990. Further experimental proof of thelytokous parthenogenesis in oribatid mites (Acari: Oribatida: Desmonomata). Exp. Appl. Acarol. 8:149-159.
  • Reeves, R.M. and V. M. Behan-Pelletier 1999. Carabodes (Acari: Oribatida: Carabodidae) of North America, with descriptions of new species from western regions. Canadian Journal of Zoology 76:1898-1921.
  • Smith, I.M., E.E. Lindquist and V. Behan-Pelletier. 1998. Mites (Acari). In: I.M. Smith (Ed.), Assessment of species diversity in the Montane Cordillera Ecozone. Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network. EMAN and Partners Publications. Website:
  • St. John, M.G., Behan-Pelletier, V.M., Bagatto, G., Lindquist, E.E., Shorthouse, J.D., Smith, I.M. 2001. Soil formation and mite colonization of rehabilitated mine tailings. Plant and Soil 245: 295-305.
  • Thomas, R.H. and S.F. MacLean Jr., 1988. Community structure in soil Acari along a latitudinal transect of tundra sites in northern Alaska. Pedobiologia, 31: 113-138.
  • Tomlin, A.D. and J.J. Miller. 1987. Composition of the soil fauna in forested and grassy plots at Delhi, Ontario. Can. J. Zool. 65: 3048-3055.
  • Tousignant, S., D. Coderre et S. Popovich, 1988. Effet du labour-hersage sur la mésofaune du sol en plantation de feuillus. Pedobiologia 31: 283-291.
  • Williams, D.D. and I.D. Hogg, 1988. Ecology and production of invertebrates in a Canadian coldwater spring-springbrook system. Holarctic Ecology, 11: 41-54.
  • Winchester, N.N., Behan-Pelletier, V.M. and Ring, R.A. 2000 Arboreal specificity, diversity and abundance of canopy-dwelling oribatid mites (Acari: Oribatida). Pedobiologia. 43:391-400.

For more information, contact Valerie M. Behan-Pelletier and Barbara Eamer.