Meet the bug that tastes 'like quinine with habanero'

Monday, January 23, 2023
A giant velvet mite with its favorite prey, a winged termite.

Justin Schmidt, an adjunct scientist with the University of Arizona Department of Entomology, recently published the culmination of over 30 years of research on giant velvet mites – elusive creatures of the arachnid family of which little was known about. Schmidt, who has been dubbed "the King of Sting" thanks to his exploits across the world in pursuit of stinging insects, co-authored the research paper with his wife, Li Schmidt. In an interview with University of Arizona News, Schmidt spoke about the surprising discoveries he made by observing the tiny arachnids, pitting them against predators and … tasting them.

According to the recently published research, giant velvet mites have to contend with few, if any, predators. After testing a dozen insect species, only antlions, also known as doodlebugs, emerged as “meaningful predators” for the mites. “After years studying these mites, I thought, ‘Gosh, nobody eats them.’ I thought, ‘Well, I'm a generalist predator. I should just try one myself, and maybe that’ll give me a clue as to what they taste like,’" said Schmidt. “It was astringent and had a kind of a sharp, unpleasant, spicy flavor. It was like mixing quinine with habanero.”

Read Justin Schmidt’s interview with University of Arizona News

Daniel Stolte
Science Writer, University Communications