Are Mites Parasites? Unraveling the Truth Behind These Tiny Creatures

Mites are small arthropods that share a common ancestry with spiders and ticks. They inhabit diverse environments across the world.

While many of them are free-living or beneficial to humans, others are considered parasites.

Are Mites Parasites

Parasitic mites can have a negative impact on humans, animals, and plants, causing irritation, disease, or damage.

For instance, the straw itch mite is a prevalent insect parasite that attacks humans, resulting in skin irritation.

These mites are almost invisible due to their small size and can be found in alfalfa, hay, and barley.

On the other hand, velvet mites are predators of insects and insect eggs, making them beneficial for controlling pest populations.

In general, mites have a wide range of characteristics and ecological roles.

It is important to recognize the difference between parasitic mites and those that are harmless or even helpful to humans and their environment.

What Are Mites?

Mites are small arthropods that are part of the Acari subclass. They comprise thousands of different species, ranging from harmless free-living types to parasitic ones that affect plants, animals, and humans.

Here are some key features of mites:

  • Most mites are tiny, with some being almost invisible to the human eye
  • They have specialized mouthparts adapted to their mode of feeding
  • Mite species can be free-living, predatory, or parasitic

Types of Mites

There are a variety of mite species, some of which affect humans and animals, while others are plant parasites or predators.

The following are some common mite types:

  1. Lice: These are ectoparasites that feed on the blood of their hosts and can cause intense itching and skin irritation. Examples include head lice and body lice.
  2. Scabies mites: These mites burrow into the skin, leading to itching, rashes, and infections in humans. The most common species is Sarcoptes scabiei.
  3. Ticks: Ticks are external parasites that feed on the blood of host animals, such as humans, pets, and livestock. They can transmit diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  4. Chiggers: Chiggers are the larvae of certain mite species that feed on humans and animals, causing skin irritations and itching.
  5. Bird mites: These parasitic mites feed on the blood of birds but can also bite humans, causing skin irritation and itching.
  6. Demodex: Demodex mites live on the skin of humans and animals, usually without causing harm. However, in some cases, they can cause skin conditions like rosacea and demodicosis.
  7. Dust mites: These common indoor allergens feed on dead skin cells and can cause allergies and asthma in sensitive individuals.

Effects of different types of mites on their hosts

Mite typeHostEffects
LiceHumans, animalsIntense itching, skin irritation
Scabies mitesHumansItching, rashes, infections
TicksHumans, pets, livestockTransmit diseases
ChiggersHumans, animalsSkin irritations, itching
Bird mitesBirds, humansSkin irritation, itching
DemodexHumans, animalsSkin conditions in some cases
Dust mitesN/AAllergies, asthma

Are Mites Parasites?

Yes, mites encompass a wide range of species, some of which are parasites.

While many mites are harmless or beneficial, certain types can have detrimental effects on humans, animals, and plants, causing irritation, disease, or damage.

Sexton Beetle and Phoretic Mites

Mite Infestations on Humans

Mites are tiny creatures that can infest human skin, causing various health issues.

In this section, we will discuss different types of mite infestations on humans, focusing on Scabies, Demodex Dermatitis, and Bird and Rodent Mites.

Scabies

Scabies is a highly contagious skin condition caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. This itch mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin, leading to severe itching and an inflamed rash.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Intense itching, especially at night
  • Small red bumps or blisters on the skin

Transmission mainly occurs through close physical contact with an infested person or their belongings, such as clothing.

Immediate medical attention is crucial to prevent complications and to avoid spreading the infection to others.

Treatment usually involves prescribed creams or oral medications to kill the mites and alleviate itching.

Demodex Dermatitis

Demodex mites are naturally present on human skin but can lead to dermatitis if they multiply excessively.

This condition is also known as Demodex-associated rosacea. Symptoms involve redness, inflammation, and itching. Key points about Demodex Dermatitis include:

  • Demodex mites live in hair follicles and oil glands
  • Overgrowth can cause skin irritation and redness

To manage Demodex Dermatitis, dermatologists may recommend topical or oral treatments, such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications, along with maintaining proper skin hygiene.

Bird and Rodent Mites

Occasionally, mites from birds and rodents can also infest human skin. Although these mites are not adapted to live on humans, they can still cause itching and rash.

Some facts about bird and rodent mites include:

  • They typically infest humans when their original host is unavailable
  • Bird and rodent mites don’t complete their life cycle on human skin

Removing the source of infestation, such as bird nests or rodent access points, is essential to control these mites.

Insecticides and professional pest control services may be necessary in some cases.

Here’s a comparison table summarizing the key features of the three types of mite infestations:

Mite TypeSymptomsTransmission and CauseTreatment and Control Methods
ScabiesItching, rash, blistersDirect contact, infested belongingsCreams, oral medications
DemodexRedness, inflammation, itchingOvergrowth in hair follicles, glandsAntibiotics, anti-inflammatory meds, skin hygiene
Bird/Rodent MitesItching, rashInfestation from bird or rodent nestsRemoval of source, insecticides, professional pest control

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs and Larvae

Mites undergo a variable life cycle, with some species beginning as pollen eaters before progressing to other stages such as predatory or parasitic ones1.

Female mites lay eggs which hatch into larvae. Larvae typically have six legs, while nymphs and adults have eight legs.

Nymph and Adult Stages

After the larval stage, mites enter the nymph stage. At this point, they start to resemble small adult mites.

Once they complete their development, they become adult mites. Some mites, for example scabies mites, burrow and create tunnels under the skin where they lay eggs2.

Reproduction

Mite reproduction varies depending on the species.

In general, adult female and male mites engage in sexual reproduction to produce offspring.

The duration of their life cycle also has variations, such as 10-17 days for human-infesting scabies mites2 and 10-12 days for rodent mites3.

Life cycle of mites

Life Cycle StageCharacteristics
EggsLaid by females, hatch into larvae
LarvaeSix-legged stage, initial stage after hatching
NymphResembles small adult mites
AdultEight-legged, engage in reproduction

Some example mites include tropical rat mites3, which primarily infest rats and house mice but may also feed on humans, and scabies mites2 that affect humans by burrowing under the skin.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Mite-related parasites often cause skin irritation and itching in humans. Some common symptoms include:

  • Intense itching: Especially at night, leading to sleep disruption.
  • Rash: Red, raised bumps on the skin, often concentrated in areas like armpits and between fingers.
  • Redness: Inflamed areas of the skin that may appear similar to eczema.
  • Skin irritation: Dryness, flaking, and cracking of the skin.

The severity of these symptoms varies among individuals and may depend on factors such as age, health, and the specific type of mite involved.

Velvet Mite

Diagnosing Mite-related Conditions

Diagnosing mite-related conditions typically begins with a doctor examining the affected skin.

They may perform a skin scraping to collect samples for further examination under a microscope.

Diagnosis methods of different mite-related conditions

This can help identify the specific mite species and guide appropriate treatment.

Mite-related ConditionCommon SymptomsDiagnosis Method
Scabies (common in North America)Intense itching, rashSkin scraping, microscopic examination
Demodex mites (associated with rosacea)Redness, skin irritationSkin scraping, microscopic examination
Chiggers (common in wooded areas)Intense itching, rash around the biteVisual inspection, outdoor exposure

Keep in mind that some mite-related conditions can mimic other skin issues, like eczema or dermatitis.

Therefore, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to receive accurate diagnosis and treatment options tailored to your specific condition.

Treatments and Prevention

Medications

There are various medications available for treating mite infestations. Common options include:

  • Permethrin: A topical cream usually applied for 8-14 hours, then washed off. It is effective against many mite species, including scabies and lice.
  • Oral antihistamines: These help alleviate itching and inflammation caused by mite bites.
  • Oral antibiotics: These may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection occurs due to scratching sores and scaly skin.

Home Remedies

Some home remedies can help alleviate symptoms and discomfort from mite infestations, such as:

  • Applying a specially formulated shampoo recommended by your healthcare provider to treat lice or Demodex.
  • Washing bedding, clothing, and towels used by infested persons within the past three days to prevent reinfestation.

Preventive Measures

To minimize the risk of mite infestations, follow these preventive measures:

  • Regularly vacuum and clean your home to eliminate mite habitats.
  • Keep bedding, clothing, and towels clean and washed frequently.
  • Avoid contact with people or animals who are visibly infested or experiencing itchiness, sores, or scaly skin.
  • Consult with a healthcare provider if you suspect a mite infestation.

Preventive Measures

MedicationsHome RemediesPreventive Measures
PermethrinSpecialized shampooRegular home cleaning
Oral antihistaminesWashing bedding, clothing, towelsFrequent washing of bedding and clothes
Oral antibiotics Avoid contact with infested people
  Consult a healthcare provider

Always remember to consult a healthcare professional before starting any treatment for mite infestations.

Harmful Agricultural Mites

Mites are tiny creatures that can have significant negative effects on agricultural crops and vegetation.

A couple of common harmful mites found in agriculture are the cyclamen and two-spotted spider mites. These pests can cause damage to plants by:

  • Feeding on plant tissues
  • Spreading diseases

Besides, eriophyid mites can cause deformities on plants, including galls, leaf curling, and deformed buds.

Velvet Mite

Control Methods

Controlling harmful mites in agriculture involves implementing various strategies. Some effective methods include:

  • Predatory Mites: Introducing predatory mites which feed on harmful mites can help control their populations
  • Cultural Controls: Proper irrigation and crop rotation practices can reduce favorable environments for mite infestations

Pros and Cons of Predatory Mites

ProsCons
Eco-friendlyCan be costly
Targets harmful mitesCan be slow to establish

Predatory mites offer a natural way to control harmful mites in agriculture, but it’s important to consider the costs and time needed to establish their populations for effective results.

Mites and Wildlife: An Overview

Bird and Rodent Mites

Bird mites are tiny, brownish or grayish creatures often infesting bird nests on or in buildings.

Rodent mites, on the other hand, are typically found on rodents like mice and rats.

Both bird and rodent mites are parasites that feed on their host’s blood and can cause irritation and discomfort to the animals they infest.

For example:

  • Bird mites: Commonly infest pigeons, sparrows, and starlings.
  • Rodent mites: Often found on rats or mice.

Tick-borne Diseases in Animals

Ticks are another type of mite that can pose significant health problems for wildlife, as they are known to transmit various diseases to animals.

Animals in the United States are especially susceptible to tick-borne illnesses.

 

Here is a comparison table of some common tick-borne diseases in animals:

Disease Affected animals Symptoms Treatment
Lyme disease Dogs, horses Fever, joint pain, loss of appetite Antibiotics
Ehrlichiosis Dogs Fever, weight loss, swollen glands Antibiotics
Anaplasmosis Dogs, horses, cattle Anemia, fever, weight loss Antibiotics

Conclusion

Mites are prevalent parasites among wildlife, with bird and rodent mites primarily infesting birds and rodents. 

While some mites serve beneficial functions such as predators of pests, others act as parasites, wreaking havoc on humans, animals, and plants.

It is imperative to distinguish between harmful and benign mites, understand their impacts, and implement effective management strategies.

Footnotes

  1. https://kids.niehs.nih.gov/topics/natural-world/wildlife/animals/mites

  2. https://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/environmental-health-protection/structural-pest-control/mites-affecting-humans.html 2 3

  3. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IG086 2

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about mites. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Biting Mites: Tropical Rat Mite or Tropical Fowl Mite???

 

Biting us!!!!
Location: Sacramento, CA
June 17, 2011 6:31 pm
We live in Sacramento, CA. We have a 9 month old sweet boy. We have all been getting bitten at night for a couple of weeks. This morning, we noticed maybe 20 or 30 of these little bugs on a white pillow, and on us.

Were positive these guys are biting us. Upon a thorough search of the bedroom, under bed, under and on mattress, we have found NOTHING??!!?
Signature: Please respond asap.

Biting MIte

You have some species of Biting Mites.  Often Bird Mites and Rat Mites enter the home if they have been living in the nest of a host in the attic.  Once the host leaves the nest, the Mites will enter the home to seek a blood meal. 

You may see additional information on our site at this posting from our archives.  There is also a very informative dialog on this BugGuide posting.

Thank you so much!!!  We have been in a “full blown, flipped out panic” all day, in fear of possible bedbugs.  I tried to research rat mites, but found no similar photos.  The photos you provided match exactly.  Their size is about 1 mm.  Certainly not the 2 to 5 mm that bedbugs are said to be. 

And ironically reassuring is the fact that last year, we discovered a roof rat infestation in our air conditioning ducts.  I personally removed and replaced all the duct work, sealed up the attic, and hired a pest company to monitor the problem with traps. 

There has been no sign or the rats for 7 months, but I’m sure the mites can remain in nesting material for a while.

If you would, humor us with a reassurance that these aren’t bedbugs, and if you have any tips for repellent or eradication we welcome them.
Once again-THANK YOU
Dean, Naz, and Zande

Dear Dean, Naz and Zande,
Be reassured they are not Bed Bugs.  Mites can be difficult to eradicate, but knowing that you had a rat problem that has been eliminated should eventually lead to the decline in the Mite population.

Letter 2 – Balaustium Mite

 

This little red bug.
My Name is David Di Iorio. I ran across your link, and thought I would drop a line to ask a question. I live in central NJ, and on a nice sunny day, these little guys come out from all over. My backyard is 80 % cement, and seem to hang out on the patio and on the steps.

But know, this year they are on top of the roof of my garage and appear to be all over. I need to get a handle on this and would like to know if they are harmful. Any information would be good if you can help. Some of the folks at work would like to know also.
Thank you,
David Di Iorio

Hi David,
Our first inclination would have been to say you have Predatory Running Mites, but we just received a very thorough explanation. Here is some information just supplied to us by a real expert named Barry M. OConnor: “All of the mites in the photos you call by this name are species in the family Erythraeidae, genus Balaustium.

I think you have these confused with species in the family Anystidae, genus Anystis. Both of these mites are relatively large (for mites!), red in color, and commonly occur in aggregations. Anystis are the very fast moving, predatory mites. Their body is almost circular in outline. They run in what appears to be a random fashion until they encounter small arthropod prey.

These are harmless to people. Balaustium, on the other hand, are more elongate as seen in your photos, with a distinct gap between the 2nd and 3rd legs. Species of Erythraeidae have piercing mouthparts and are also predatory on small arthropods or eggs in their post-larval stages, but Balaustium are unusual in being pollen feeders.

They can be found in large numbers in flowers, but are most often seen by people on flat surfaces where pollen falls. These mites have been reported to bite people, causing some irritation, although why they do this is uncertain since they’re not parasitic.”

Letter 3 – Culture Mites

 

Dear Sir
We have a dairy and we specialize in hard and soft cheese (France and Italian Style. For the last few weeks we see a development of brown layer with small particles on some of our cheeses.

This layer seems to deteriorate the cheese (small holes). Under a microscope it seems like kind of insect (pictures attached). We will appreciate if you could help and advise to identified the insect, it’s origin and ways to disinfect. Thank you in advance
Best regards
Michal Lidor

Hi Mike,
You have some species of Culture Mite, possibly of the genuses Acarus or Tyrophagus. We have been unable to locate any specific information except that they infest foods. Sorry, I can’t tell you how to disinfect without destroying the integrity of the cheese.

Update from Barry M. OConnor (05/23/2006)
Culture mites (2/14/05). You’re right that this is a species of Acarus, most likely Acarus siro. This is the most common “cheese mite” infesting cheese produced in traditional operations. As a historical note, this species was the first mite named by Linnaeus!

Letter 4 – Possibly Luna Moth

 

Subject: Flying bug looks like a leaf
Location: Petersburg, Virginia
May 23, 2015 10:20 pm
Hi I saw a large flying bug that looked kind of like a bat but it has green wings like a leaf and a long tail. I thought it was a bat when I saw it flying around my patio, but when it came close to the window I saw that it looked like a big leaf. I’m sorry the picture is so dark, it ws at night around 10pm. I’m in Petersburg Virginia.
Signature: Miss Vee

Maybe a Luna Moth
Maybe a Luna Moth

Dear Miss Vee,
As you have indicated, your image is dark, but it is also quite blurry and really not much help when it comes to identification, however your description indicates that you most likely saw a Luna Moth.

Letter 5 – Ectoparasitic Water Mites on Blue Dasher

 

Subject: Blue Dasher with — eggs?
Location: NH, USA
July 20, 2013 9:01 pm
Dragonfly (I think it’s a Blue Dasher). I’m wondering what the little red spheroids are. Are they insect eggs? Was it parasitized by something?
Signature: Joel Stave

Water Mite Larvae on Dragonfly
Water Mite Larvae on Blue Dasher

Dear Joel,
Dragonflies are frequently hosts to Ectoparasitic Water Mite larvae that attach themselves to the Dragonfly while it is still an aquatic naiad.  The Northwest Dragonflier website maintains that when the naiad molts into a winged adult, the larval Water Mites in the genus
Arrenurus crawl from the cast off exuvia onto the still soft body of the winged adult and attach themselves as ectoparasites.

  They derive both nourishment from this and the advantage of transportation to a new body of water where they can drop off and mature.  Light infestations do not negatively impact the Dragonfly much, but heavy infestations can be very detrimental to the adult Dragonfly. 

Here is another simple explanation on Taos Telecommunity.  We believe you are correct that this is a Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, based on photos posted to BugGuide

Letter 6 – Crawlers: Immature Scale Insects Eating the Privet in Kenya

 

Subject: Bugs on privet hedge
Location: Kenya
September 28, 2014 6:27 am
Hi, we have an infestation on our privet hedges and originally thought it was a mould or fungus, however on closer inspection it appears to be an insect, they are less than 1mm long and are killing our hedges, the leaves turn sticky and black and then die and fall off leaving the privet bare – it does however seem to be re-sprouting, have attached some photos – any ideas what this is and how we can control it?
Signature: Thanks so much

Mite or Hemipteran??
Crawler:  Immature Scale Insect

Wow, we are totally stumped on this, though we believe we have narrowed the possibilities to two totally unrelated groups.  First we should state that insects have three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae, and arachnids have four pairs of legs (five pairs if pedipalps are included).

  When we first viewed the thumbnails that are attached to emails we receive, it appeared that your creature had three antennae, but upon viewing the larger attachment, we cannot tell if we are looking at antennae or a fourth pair of legs. 

The body of these creatures resembles the body on many immature Hemipterans, which are classified as insects, but the first pair of appendages, has us confused.  We cannot tell if the first pair of appendages is a pair of antennae or a pair of legs.  If antennae, then we are relatively certain these are immature Hemipterans, possibly True Bugs in the suborder Heteroptera. 

True Bugs have mouths designed to pierce and suck, and many species feed on plants, causing damage that might include leaf loss.  Mites, which are Arachnids and which have four pairs of legs, might also cause damage to plants.

  Since you did not indicate any larger individuals, we are speculating that these are Mites as many species are quite small, especially since you indicate they are only about 1 mm in size. 

We are going to seek a more professional opinion on your request, and we are also going to feature your submission on our scrolling feature bar.  We thought we might have gotten lucky when we learned there is a Privet Mite, Brevipalpus obovatus, but your individuals look nothing like those pictured on Doctor Optimara or those on the North Carolina University site.

Thanks for the response, I will see if I can get some more photos of them today and send them over.
Kind regards,
Daniel.

Hemipterans or Mites???
Immature Scale Insects known as Crawlers

Eric Eaton provides a category:  Immature Hemipterans
Daniel:
Wow!  These appear to be “crawlers,” the immature stage of some kind of scale insect (Hemiptera:  Sternorrhyncha).  Outstanding pics.  If I get around to doing any more research on these (it is late Sunday night), I’ll pass along my findings.  Knowing the food plant helps a good deal.
Eric

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

8 thoughts on “Are Mites Parasites? Unraveling the Truth Behind These Tiny Creatures”

  1. Hi,
    Im from the North Island of New Zealand and have similar looking bugs that have over taken my couch! After reading this i checked for any signs of rats in our roof, walls and under the house and found nothing. I know they’re not bed bugs or carpet beetles because these critters are just way too small! Do you have any ways of getting rid of them or even if you have an idea of anything else they could be? If the imformation helps we also have a dog..

    Thank you!

    Jessica.

    Reply
  2. Well thats fair enough and i understand that. Well is there anything we can do too naturally deter them from wanting to be in our home?

    Reply
    • We don’t know, but perhaps one of our readers will be able to write in and comment. We can’t even figure out how to get rid of the Argentine Ants that have infested our grounds.

      Reply
  3. Hi
    I live in Asia three month ago i saw one of them walking on my phone’s screen and now i see lots of them every day they usually walk on my phone and computer’s screen today i found about 1000 of them in our roof they’re a lot and i can do nothing about them.do you have any advice?

    Reply
  4. We have the same problem with getting bit at nite or i do but my husband does not they get on my hair while I’m sleeping what could this be it’s not bed bugs or they would bite our skin it’s been several months now

    Reply

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