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  • Writer's pictureNoel McCarthy

Biting Mites - Insects In The City

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

Living in a city has numerous advantages: Lots of theaters, movie houses, and music venues; innumerable restaurants and coffee shops; book stores, large and small; clothing boutiques, shoe shops, and big department stores; the opera, the symphony; and, of course, outlets that carry items you won’t find in suburban malls, e.g. hard-to-find vinyl records, witchcraft supplies; and, well, practically anything you can think of!

But, there’s also a downside to city life. I know, I lived for years in Manhattan, and somehow never got used to car alarms going off at three in the morning, early-morning deliveries to stores that (seemingly) required the drivers to yell at the top of their voices, the upstairs neighbors who argued constantly and loved to stomp around on their uncarpeted floors, etc. You get the idea.

image of a mite

What Real Estate Agents Don’t Mention

However, there’s another aspect of city living that often goes unmentioned: bugs. Especially cockroaches, fleas, bed bugs and, surprisingly perhaps, mites! And there are all kinds of mites: clover mites, house dust mites, rodent and bird mites, scabies mites, chiggers, among others.

What Are Mites?

For the record: mites are arthropods ̶ i.e. an invertebrate type of animal that includes spiders and crustaceans ̶ which are closely related to ticks. For the most part, mites prey on insects or feed on decaying plant material. Others prefer to snack on stored kitchen products such as grain, cereal and cheese. (Of the latter we don’t know if they prefer Cheddar or Stilton, or some other exotic brand, but let us know what you think!)

Mites come into contact with humans fairly infrequently, and they rarely transmit diseases. But when they do, watch out: mite bites can be quite serious, and fatal in some circumstances. Only a small number of mite species prey on birds or mammals, but they can ̶ and do ̶ turn their attention to the human inhabitants of the houses and apartments they invade.

Want to learn even more about mites?

I smell a rat (or two or three!)

Research seems to indicate that of all the species of mite you could encounter in an urban area, the most likely culprits include rodent mites, bird mites and dust mites.

Although this is not to say that you won’t run into scabies mites as well, but we’ll get to them later.

Rodent Mites

Starting with rodent mites, as long ago as 2014, The Intelligencer magazine was running an article entitled Introducing Rat Mites: They’re Even Worse Than Bedbugs, in which they sounded the alarm about these highly adaptable and versatile creatures. And with good reason, since rodent mites reproduce very quickly, sometimes in as little as two weeks. As you might expect, there are a number of different species of rodent mites, such as tropical rat mite, the spiny rat mite, and the house mouse mite.

Where Are Rodent Mites Found?

Rodent mites are typically found in attics, walls of houses and apartment buildings. Offices, retail spaces, and schools are not immune. And these mites stay close to the nests of their hosts. However, once a nest is abandoned ̶ perhaps because of overcrowding, when the ‘tenants’ die, or when the nest has been eradicated by a pest management professional (PMP) ̶ rodent mites will also leave, looking for new, unsuspecting victims. In fact, it is these wandering mites that are more likely to bite humans. Fortunately for us, though, we are these nomads’ least favorite food source. That holds for dogs and cats too, which is why rodent mites must find other, new rodent hosts to survive.

Bird Mites

City dwellers also have to contend with bird mites, which find refuge in the nests of a wide variety of birds. In more residential areas most bird nests will be found in chimneys, on protected areas on a roof, and in attics, where birds might exploit an opening for nesting purposes. But, as many city building managers will tell you, apartment buildings and high-rises make for perfectly protected sites for nest building. Eradicate the nest and the resident mites will migrate ̶ in your direction if you’re unlucky.

In fact, if you are the target of a mite infestation, there’s a good chance that they are refugees from a nearby extermination operation, or, after the birds have left.

Dealing with Dust Mites

We generally know when we have a rodent or bird mite infestation, and we are certainly aware when we have a problem with bed bugs or cockroaches. Alas, that is not true when it comes to dust mites. True, they are neither parasitic nor are they able to bite human beings, but they are a major allergenic component of house dust. It is the potent allergens they carry ̶ in their cast skins, fecal material and secretions ̶ that make them a household hazard.

What’s worse is that are practically ubiquitous: they are present in virtually every home, office, store, hospital, school etc. Find a human habitation, and you will find dust mites. Which is not surprising, since their chief source of sustenance is dander, i.e. portions of human or pet skin.

So, while you won’t suffer from bites, you can suffer from dust mite allergy, the symptoms of which can include sneezing, coughing, a stuffy or runny nose, and maybe even watery eyes. Not dangerous in itself ̶ unless you happen to be prone to bronchial asthma!

The Scabies Mites

The ‘nasty’ mite in question is the scabies mite, and it is very unpleasant indeed. Fortunately for us, scabies is not spread by animals ̶ as a general rule. However, some animals are prone to a kind of scabies, commonly referred to as ‘mange’. While the mites that carry this infection can spread to humans, creating itching and redness, they cannot survive (or reproduce) for long on human skin, and quickly die off. Your pet, on the other hand, will have to be treated it contracts mange, since it can cause fur loss and chronic itching.

Learn more about how to get rid of scabies.

The scabies mite is an entirely different hazard. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health:

“Human scabies is caused by an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite

(Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis). The microscopic scabies mite burrows into

the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. The most common

symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash. The

scabies mite usually is spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a

person who has scabies. An infected person can spread scabies even if he or

she has no symptoms.”

A scabies infestation also looks different from other insect bites, e.g. fleas, mosquitos, etc. Scabies and bed bugs actually can be confused. But scabies looks like extended burrows under the skin. Which is exactly what they are: the result of female scabies mites digging away just under the surface of the skin. The results resemble grayish-white raised lines, although it’ll take anywhere from three to five weeks for these warning signs to appear.

Unfortunately, scabies will not vanish of its own volition. It requires medical attention, specifically topical prescription medications designed to kill the mites. Please note that no OTC medication can kill scabies mites. So, if you think you are a scabies victim see your doctor without delay.

As we pointed out at the top of this blog, there are many, many different sorts of mites, but a goodly proportion of them do not bite and are not dangerous to humans. If you’re concerned about the mites in your home or workplace, you can treat them on your own with Sterifab, or call a pest control professional.

Want to try Sterifab on your mites?


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