Unionicola formosa is a symbiotic water mite that passes most of its life cycle in the mantle cavity of freshwater mussels. Although mites of this genus are often referred to as parasitic, little is known about their nutritional biology. A few species reportedly pierce the gill of a host mussel and ingest tissue or hemolymph. The present study was undertaken to identify possible sources of nutrition for U. formosa. To determine if mites ingested particulate matter in the mucous strand produced by a mussel during feeding, mussels with resident mites were exposed to a suspension of fluorescent microspheres. There was no evidence that U. formosa ingested the beads. Histochemical staining did, however, indicate a mucous material present in the midgut of the mites. Sodium dodecyl sulfate–polyacrylamide gel electrophoretic assays revealed a high molecular weight component, consistent with a mucopolysaccharide, present both in the mussel gill and the mites. Results from western blots and an immunoaffinity binding assay with antibodies against mussel gill tissue and hemolymph also indicated that mites ingested host tissue. Whereas U. formosa probably does not ingest particulate material acquired by its host's suspension feeding, it is apparent that this mite utilizes host mucus, gill tissue, or hemolymph for at least part of its nutrition.

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