An astonishment a day- 
drives your depression away...

Travel in the nose of a hummingbird.  

It is hard to image anything stranger, romantic in a sense, and exotic, than traveling hundreds of kilometers, being powered by a hummingbird, and residing comfortably in its nose. 
This is exactly how a certain species of arachnid, Rhinoseius patens, spends its life. This is possible as it is only a little creature arachnid measuring not more than 0.5 mm in length. Its main nourishment is the pollen and nectar of plants that are pollinated by hummingbirds, in particular the beautiful flowering Hamelia patens, which grows in California and Mexico. The arachnid feeds on this flower, but certain individuals feel the need for further travels. This does make sense on a very basic level - one must search for partners from afar to avoid inbreeding. 

To fullfil such dreams, the mite must wait for the beak of the hummingbird to appear among the petals of the flower that it inhabits, it then gathers all of its strength, jumps on the beak of the bird and races towards the openings of its nose. For this it has very little time, as the bird quickly drinks the nectar and moves on - each flower is only tended to for about 5 seconds. Once inside the nose, it feels safe, it doesn't do any harm to its host, it may bother it a bit, but after all a hummingbird it unlikely to pick its nose - it doesn't have the time or the fingers for it. 

The key to survival for the arachnid is the getting out of the nose, and off the hummingbird at the right time and place. This must be done very precisely, as the chances of meeting a partner only exists on another hamelia bush, whereas the hummingbird visits a variety of plants. The mite decides on the time to leave the hummingbird based on the smell of the flowers. As soon as another hamelia plant is visited, the departure must be lightning quick - the mite sprints along the beak of the bird and throws itself amongst the petals of the flower into the arms of females desiring foreign lovers. If this is done a fraction of a second too late, he will fall to the ground and perish without having fulfilled his life dream. Quite a sporty disposition is needed for this. The mite runs along the beak of the hummingbird at a rate of 6 mm per second, which is equvalent to over 12 body lenghts per second, roughly the record of a cheetah at full speed. 

After settling into a new flower, the mite spends its time in debaucherous activities and gorging itself until its death. As the hummingbirds of this species are migratory animals, they spend their summers on the shores of California and winter fly to mid-western Mexico - the mites tend to travel great distances as passengers in the nose of the jewel bird - the hummingbird. 

Illustrated is another species of hummingbird on a hibiscus flower, but a the typical beak of the hummingbird can be clearly seen, where this race takes place.



Hamelia patens (Rubiaceae family)



(C) (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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February  2003