You have probably never considered how many types of mites there are. This is, of course, not surprising; we mostly don’t go around thinking about mites on a daily basis. We mostly only consider them when we run across some that we want to eradicate. That said, mites are actually fascinating—as far as nuisances go, anyway.
Scientists place mites in the same group with spiders (in the class arachnida), although they give them a subclass (Acaarina) made up of mites and ticks. Ticks form a part of this group, but the vast majority is mites.
So what are some of the main types of mites?
You have probably heard the phrase, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Well, not worry, dust mites don’t bite—well, not living things any way. Dust mites (Dermatophagiodes ferinae) live off the dead skin of humans, dogs, and cats. Thousands of them can congregate on just a small patch of your carpet, for example. They really like your mattress though, since you spend a lot of your time there just shedding their breakfast, lunch and dinner all night long.
They do not live on your actual person, so you won’t actually itch at them. This does not mean however, that they aren’t a nuisance for some human beings. This may disgust you, but the feces of mites can cause allergic reactions, from watery eyes and itching to asthma attacks.
Many types of mites reside outside our homes as well. Flour mites (Acarus siro) tend to infest grains and animal feed. A clear sign of a flour mite infestation outside of actually seeing the mites is the sickly sweet smell that they leave behind in the foodstuffs. This ruins breads and other grains for human consumption. The feces of this mite is not only an allergen to humans but may also carry diseases.
Flour mites are equally harmful to other animals. If a farmer feeds infected grain to his livestock, they are likely to develop digestive problems and diarrhea. The young animals will experience stunted growth and other ailments. It is thus a scourge to the agricultural community.
Greenhouse Spider Mites
Because all types of mites are closely related to spiders, some of them show this relationship in their appearance and behavior. This is the case with the tiny greenhouse spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) which has eight legs and can spin webs. This little mite is a terror to greenhouse owners because it loves to feed on just about anything, including tomatoes and other common garden vegetables. Even worse for flower lovers, it also has a taste for ornamental flowers like roses and tulips.
Attempts to kill spider mites chemically tend to fall flat because these mites have a short life span and an extremely proficient reproductive pattern. Typically, they will only take about 9 days going from egg to reproductive maturity and since chemical agents don’t tend to have an effect on eggs this means that gardeners must reapply chemical treatments multiple times. This, however, works to the mites’ advantage since their rapid reproductive cycle allows them to adapt quickly to chemical agents.
In the end, the best way to curb spider mite infestation is through natural measures. Spider mites offer a plentiful food source for several other types of mites and ladybugs, which are not harmful to greenhouse plants. Many companies raise and ship these predator bugs specifically for the purpose of spider mite control. Some insects are even known by names such as “spider mite killer,” because of their central use in greenhouses.
These are only three of the thousands of species of mite that scientists have studied and classified. (There are more than 16 hundred spider mites alone.) So next time you lay down in bed, eat a piece of bread, or wonder what is killing your roses, you might remember the place these little, mostly unseen mites play in our lives.