A team of Japanese and Austrian researchers has named a new mite species after Twitter following its discovery through photos posted on the social media platform by an amateur photographer visiting a fishing spot near Tokyo.
The new species — formally called Ameronothrus twitter — was spotted after Satoshi Shimano, a professor who specializes in the study of mites at Hosei University, came across the tweeted photos by chance and then contacted the poster to find out where they were taken.
Shimano said the find shows social media can “help speed up the time-consuming discovery of new species” and even “contribute to the development of science.”
His co-researcher, Tobial Pfingstl, a professor at the University of Graz in Austria, said that his first reaction was surprise.
“It is very unusual that somebody not working as a scientist takes photos of mites and posts on Twitter,” he said.
Despite the researchers’ optimism about tweeted photos revealing new species, this has only happened once before so far, they say. Experts from the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark identified a new parasitic fungus through a post last year, also incorporating Twitter into its name.
The new species of mites was discovered in May last year by Takamasa Nemoto while fishing at a wharf in Choshi port in Chiba Prefecture.
While he did not catch any fish that day, the tiny bugs caught his eye and, as a keen photographer and insect enthusiast, he took snaps and posted them on Twitter.
A few days later, after an exchange of tweets, Shimano went to the location and found the colony. Measuring 613 to 766 micrometers in body length, the mites were living on metal parking blocks at a wharf, according to a paper published in March on Species Diversity, a specialized journal.
The new species is of a similar type to coastal mites that generally inhabit rich natural environments in cold temperatures and feed on algae and lichens.
Shimano and Pfingstl previously found coastal mites in Hokkaido. The researchers were therefore surprised to find the new mites in a fairly warm climate much further south.
The new species is believed to have “adapted to warmer climates and is able to successfully colonize in man-made structures,” Pfingstl said.
“Most of the Japanese coast is still unexplored in terms of coastal mites and we are very sure that there are still many things to discover,” he added.
Despite the common perception that mites are mainly a household pest, about 80% of the world’s mites live nowhere near humans and are generally “harmless,” according to Shimano.
The joint research was funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Austrian Science Fund. The team published a paper confirming the new species on March 22.
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