One of the Lone Star State’s most adorable insect inhabitants made its viral internet debut Wednesday when a volunteer at Big Bend National Park photographed what appeared to be some sort of dimpled red sack meandering about the park.
Naturally, Big Bend staff members shared the photo to Facebook.
In a rather informative post, park staff members explained that the cute red critters, sometimes called rain bugs, emerged from their silk-lined caverns in search of love after summer rain swept through the area.
“Most of the year they hide underground in silk-lined caverns, but will emerge once a year to conduct an unusual courtship” involving a ‘love garden,’ an ‘intricate silken trail’ and a mating dance,” the post reads.
During the mating ritual, which occurs once a year, male and female red velvet mites will circle each other while tapping each other with their forelegs, according to the Agricultural Research Council, a research institution that studies the agriculture sector. The male will deposit sperm onto leaves and twigs and then lay down a silk trail that leads to them. The female follows the path then “sits” in the sperm, according to the research institution.
A female red velvet mite can lay as many as 100,000 eggs, according to the Agricultural Research Council. After the larvae hatch, they survive initially as parasites, attaching themselves to other insects. One well fed, the larvae detach themselves and develop through three stages into mature mites.
Needless to say, the post proved quite a conversation starter, spawning dozens of comments.
“Silk-lined caverns! How fancy,” one Texan wrote.
“Thought it was a crab,” another person joked.
Understandably, the adorable, fuzzy red arachnid received a lot of love.
“As a child brought up in west Texas this was my favorite ‘bug’,” one commenter wrote.
“I loved these rain bugs, I grew up in Odessa, TX and used to love to find them,” wrote another commenter.
Known formally as Dinothrombium magnificum, rain bugs are arachnids and distant relatives of spiders and scorpions.
“It’s hard to tell from this picture, but they are quite large - for a mite,” Big Bend Park’s post reads. ”They can grow up to 5 mm long, about the size of a pencil eraser. Their short hairs give it a soft, velvety appearance. Adult red velvet mites eat insect eggs and prey on very small invertebrates such as ants and other plant-eating insects.”
The red velvet arthropods are often found in sandy, desert areas.
“What an interesting world in which we live!,” park staff remarked in the post. “You never know what you might find when you go for a walk.”