In deciduous woodlands near to Bristol, South-west England, about one in ten specimens of the woodlouse Oniscus asellus (L.) are infested with Bakerdania elliptica (Krczal, 1959), a small pygmephorid mite of about 200 pm in length. Woodlice in the field rarely carry more than three mites, which are usually attached to the mid or lateral regions of the sixth and seventh pereonites on the ventral surface of the isopod. These ‘favoured sites’ correspond to regions of the exoskeleton of the woodlouse which are free from abrasion as they move through leaf litter. Mites removed from these areas and replaced on the first pereonite return to a favoured site, usually within 30 min. During this process they exhibit four distinct types of behaviour.]

Uninfested specimens of Oniscus usellus maintained in laboratory tanks on leaf litter from their ‘own’ site all become infested with mites within a week. The number of mites on the isopods increases rapidly under these conditions. After six weeks, each individual carries a mean of about 50 mites. The level of infestation is subsequently stable, probably due to saturation of favoured sites, since large numbers of unattached mites can be found in the leaf litter during this period.

Studies by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy have shown that Bakerdania elliptica does not feed while attached to the cuticle of Oniscus asellus, and that all attached mites are females. Males are extremely rare and occur only in leaf litter. These observations suggest that the relationship between Bakerdania elliptica and Oniscus asellus is one of phoresy and that female mites use woodlice as an aid to dispersal during their life cycle.