It’s not surprising that we rarely see mites: they’re tiny ̶ less than 0.04 inches (1mm) in length. However, they’re also successful, as bugs go. In fact, scientists estimate that there are at least 48,000 mite species throughout the world and some experts contend that there may actually be as many as a million or more that have yet to be identified. And while mites are not as visible as their spider cousins, they do perform a number of useful functions.
In this post, we'll explain more about what mites are and how to get rid of them. We'll also explain the different types of mites, including:
House Dust Mites
What Do Mites Eat?
Mites help in the decomposition of decaying organic material, consuming fungi, plant or animal matter, as part of the “carbon cycle.” And they can be found almost anywhere: fresh and salt water, soil, forests, pastures, crops, even thermal springs and caves!
Are Mites Dangerous?
Most mites are harmless to humans, although some species can cause various allergenic conditions, such as hay fever, asthma and eczema. If you have one of these types, you do want to get rid of mites on human skin or in your house. Mites have also been acknowledged as the source of several types of skin rashes, including rodent mite dermatitis, grain itch, gamasoidosis, grocer's itch and scabies. But not all mites are harmful, and no one needs to run out and kill mites, wherever they abound.
What You Need to Know About Mites
While there are many ways in which mites can affect human health ̶ from simply being a minor irritant to causing severe skin conditions ̶ it’s important that you know, exactly, what you’re dealing with mite-wise. Then, you can decide if you need to get rid of the mites and, if so, how to start the process.
The anatomy of a mite
Here are some of the more common mites you might encounter:
A home invasion by clover mites is more than likely to induce panic by the home owner; and, while they don’t bite or bring diseases with them, they can be an annoyance, to say the least! As their name suggests, they feed on clover, as well as ivy, grasses, fruit trees and other plants. And, like lots of GM cars, they come in a variety of color; well, actually only red, green or brown.
Clover mites tend to enter houses when their food supply dries up (or is removed), which is why they tend to be more active in the Fall. Like mice and squirrels, they will look for shelter from the coming cold, houses being the preferred location. One unfortunate feature of clover mites is that the females capable of laying viable without fertilization. The ultimate matriarchy!
House Dust Mites
House dust mites are virtually invisible to the naked eye and, because they can become airborne (mites, by the way, cannot fly) are now considered one of the most common indoor allergens and one of the most common types of mites found in homes. For those of you who are allergic to dust, there’s a very good chance that you are, allergic not to dust, per se, but to house dust mites.
Dust mites are known to trigger asthma attacks, although, unlike rodent mites, itch mites and chiggers, they are rarely the cause of skin irritation. And, while they feed mainly on dander and flakes of dead skin that fall from people and animals, they aren't a type of mite that lives on humans. In fact, you’re more likely to find dust mites on furniture, pillows and mattresses than on carpeting or humans.
Itch mites are rarely, if ever, interested in humans. They prefer insects. But, when itch mites do bite humans it’s usually because said humans have been in contact with straw, hay, grasses, leaves, seeds or other materials dust mites like to call ‘home’. Like their compatriot species, dust mites are hard to see and their bites usually not felt, although they can leave itchy red marks that can look a lot like a skin rash. Like house dust mites, itch mites cannot live on humans, nor can survive indoors. Again, they are not known to transmit disease.
Are Chiggers Mites?
Chiggers are not generally regarded as an urban (or suburban pest), since they spend most of their lives in the soil and are usually found in less disturbed, rural areas. Still, there are at least two species of chigger mites that can trouble humans, as well as other mammals, birds and reptiles. Chiggers also have a unique way of detecting humans and animals: they are able to sense the carbon dioxide streams exhaled by both humans and animals.
That accomplished they then climb on soil or vegetation and wave their front legs to bring themselves into contact with the host, then grasp it with their mouths. Fortunately for us they are not blood suckers, but they eat in an equally nauseating way: they cut into the skin, inject a skin-digesting saliva and suck up the liquefied skin that results. What’s more, if they go undiscovered they can feed for many days at a time and if not removed can inflame the bite area.
Now, these nasty mites will infest almost any mammal, and unfortunately that includes we humans! However, most scabies infections are transmitted via person-to-person contact and not through mites. Still, mites are able to spread from animals to humans and vice versa, each having a preferred host species. However, unlike other mites, scabies mites actually burrow into the skin and create what can only be described as ‘tunnels’ just under the surface, at point which they lay their eggs.
Unfortunately, once scabies eggs hatch, the resultant larvae burrow right back into the skin, causing even greater irritation. Their entire life cycle doesn’t last long ̶ just 10 to 17 days at most ̶ but scabies mites are highly contagious, and if you have had prolonged contact with someone who is infected, there’s every likelihood that you could become infected. What’s more is that scabies mites can go undetected for some time, so be vigilant.