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The silk road of Tetranychus urticae: is it a single or a double lane?

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Tetranychus urticae (Acari: Tetranychidae) is a phytophagous mite that forms huge colonies. All active members of a colony (immatures and matures, females and males) spin silken threads. These mites construct a common web that protects the colony from external aggression. The silk coverage is well-known to provide advantages to the colony but very little is known about the characteristics of the threads themselves. Here is the first quantification of the diameter of silken threads spun by two different stages (adult females and larvae) and its relationship with body size of the spinning individuals. Moreover, we observed how silk was deposited on the substrate through their two pedipalps. Threads were observed by means of transmission electron and fluorescence microscopy. Silken threads spun by larvae (0.055 ± 0.018 μm) were significantly thinner than threads spun by adult females (0.111 ± 0.038 μm). In the first step of the silk depositing behaviour, the mite attached the thread to the substrate by putting its pedipalps in contact with the surface (adhesion, double silken threads). When walking, silken threads became detached from the substrate and spitted up (silken threads were free). Finally, silken threads adhered to the surface. The presence of single and double threads makes thread diameter highly variable.

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We are very grateful to Ferdinand Desneux of the ISV (Institut des sciences de la vie, UCL, Belgium) who gave microscope assistance and to Claude Remacle who allowed us to use the transmission electron microscope. Anne-Marie Faber provided fluorescent microscope assistance. Thanks to Louwrens R. Tiedt who gave us the micrographs of pedipalps. We thank Thomas Van Leeuwen who has supplied the T. urticae strain used in our experiments. We also thank Aina Astudillo Fernandez, Guillaume Le Goff and other members in our laboratory for valuable suggestions. This research was supported by Fonds pour la recherche dans l’Industrie et dans l’Agriculture (F.R.I.A.) of Belgium and by the Fund for Fundamental and Collective Research (FRFC, convention 2.4622.06). This paper is a publication BRC213 of the Biodiversity Research Center (Université catholique de Louvain).

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Correspondence to Gwendoline Clotuche.

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Clotuche, G., Mailleux, A., Deneubourg, J. et al. The silk road of Tetranychus urticae: is it a single or a double lane?. Exp Appl Acarol 56, 345–354 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10493-012-9520-6

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  • Silken threads
  • Tetranychus urticae
  • Spider mite
  • TEM
  • Diameter
  • Larva
  • Adult female