Types of Mites: A Friendly Guide to Identification

folder_openAcari, Arachnida
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Mites are incredibly tiny creatures that belong to the class Acari, a subclass of arachnids. With thousands of species, these little arthropods inhabit a vast range of environments and can have varying effects on humans, animals, and plants. You may have encountered mites in your daily life, whether indoors or outdoors, as they are virtually everywhere.

Some mite species can be beneficial, while others can be harmful. For instance, spider mites can cause damage to trees and shrubs, whereas other species are essential for the process of decomposition. Your interactions with mites can vary depending on their ecological role and their preferred habitat.

As you delve into the fascinating world of mites, you’ll undoubtedly gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse array of these small, yet remarkable creatures. From their unique life cycles to their interactions with their surroundings, mites truly embody the wonders of the microscopic world.

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Common Mites and Their Appearance

House Dust Mites

These tiny, white to cream-colored mites are commonly found in carpets, bedding, and upholstered furniture. They feed on dead skin cells and prefer warm, humid environments. House dust mites can cause allergy symptoms in some people due to the proteins in their feces and body parts.

Scabies Mites

Scabies mites, specifically Sarcoptes scabiei, are tiny mites that burrow into the skin and cause intense itching. They spread through close person-to-person contact and can also transfer from animals to humans. When infesting dogs, scabies mites cause mange, a skin condition characterized by hair loss, itching, and inflammation.

Bird Mites

Bird mites are small, eight-legged creatures that infest birds and their nests. They feed on the bird’s blood and can cause skin irritation and itching in humans if they come into contact with them. These mites are challenging to see due to their translucent bodies, and they can be particularly bothersome during the warm months.

Clover Mites

These bright red mites are commonly found on patios, sidewalks, and concrete surfaces. Although they do not bite or cause structural damage, they can cause concern due to their sudden appearance in large numbers. Clover Mites are often referred to as “concrete mites” due to their affinity for sunlit concrete surfaces.

Spider Mites

Spider mites are tiny, reddish-brown pests that damage plants by feeding on their sap. They often leave behind webbing on the leaves and cause yellow or white speckles. Spider mites thrive in dry, warm conditions, making greenhouse plants particularly susceptible to infestations.

Rodent Mites

Rodent mites primarily infest rats and mice, feeding on their blood. When the host dies or the population becomes overcrowded, these mites can invade homes and bite humans, causing dermatitis, itching, and in some cases, secondary infections.

Oak Mites

Oak mites live in oak tree galls and feed on the larvae of gall-making insects. They can cause skin irritation and itching in humans if they come into contact with exposed skin. Wind can disperse oak mites over long distances, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of an infestation.

Flour Mites

Flour mites are small, pale-colored insects that infest stored grain products such as flour, cereals, and dried fruit. They can cause food spoilage and produce a characteristic “minty” odor in infested products. To prevent flour mite infestation, store your food in airtight containers and practice proper food storage hygiene.

Mange Mites

Mange mites are microscopic arachnids known for causing skin irritation in animals, particularly dogs. The two most common types are sarcoptic mange (caused by Sarcoptes scabiei) and demodectic mange (caused by Demodex mites). Symptoms include hair loss, crusting, and severe itching in affected animals, and treatment often requires veterinary intervention.

Life Cycle of Mites

Mites go through a simple life cycle consisting of four main stages: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. Let’s explore each stage briefly.

Eggs: Female mites lay eggs after mating with a male. These eggs are tiny and often found in clusters on the host or in the surrounding environment, depending on the species. Once the eggs are laid, they hatch into larvae within a few days to a couple of weeks.

Larvae: The larvae emerge from the eggs and are usually smaller than adult mites. They have six legs and feed on various sources such as skin cells, plant material, or blood, depending on the species. After feeding, larvae undergo one or more molts, becoming nymphs.

Some characteristics of mite larvae are:

  • Six legs
  • Smaller than adults
  • Feed on various sources

Nymphs: Nymphs resemble small adults but are not sexually mature yet. They have eight legs and go through one or more molts before reaching the adult stage. During the molting process, nymphs shed their exoskeleton and grow larger.

Adults: At the adult stage, mites are fully grown and sexually mature. They are capable of mating and reproducing, which continues the life cycle. Adult mites typically have eight legs and can vary in size, color, and shape depending on the species.

Here’s a comparison of the different stages in the life cycle of mites:

StageLegsCharacteristics
EggsN/ATiny, laid in clusters
Larvae6Smaller than adults, feed on various sources
Nymphs8Resemble small adults, not sexually mature
Adults8Fully grown, sexually mature, capable of reproduction

By understanding the life cycle of mites, you can better identify and manage them if they become problematic in your home or garden. Remember, not all mites are harmful; some are even beneficial, like the predatory mites that help control pests.

Effects of Mites on Humans and Animals

Health Implications

Mites can cause several health issues in both humans and animals. For humans, acariasis occurs when mites invade and parasitize various tissues, including the gastrointestinal tract and lungs. In animals, manges are common, particularly in dogs.

Effects on Skin

Mites, such as Sarcoptes scabiei, can cause skin irritation and inflammation. They can lead to intensely itchy rashes in humans, known as scabies. Animal skin can also be affected, resulting in mange.

ConditionHumansAnimals
Skin IrritationScabiesMange
InflammationYesYes

Effects on Allergies

Mites can trigger allergic reactions in humans and animals. They can cause:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Sneezing
  • Dermatitis
  • Rosacea

A common example is dust mites, which are often linked to household allergies and asthma.

Transmission of Diseases

Although mites don’t typically transmit diseases, it is possible for them to serve as carriers. When mites bite, they can introduce bacteria or other pathogens into the affected area. This is why it’s important to consult your healthcare provider if you suspect a mite infestation.

In summary, mites can negatively impact the well-being of humans and animals by causing:

  • Skin irritation and inflammation
  • Allergic reactions
  • Potential transmission of pathogens

Taking precautions to reduce mite infestations and seeking medical advice when necessary can help protect your health.

Mites and Plants Interaction

Habitats

Mites are found in various habitats, but some mite species prefer living close to plants. For example, spider mites are primarily found on plants, trees, and other forms of vegetation. These tiny creatures reside on the undersides of leaves and stems. Forests often provide a suitable habitat for mites due to the abundance of vegetative cover.

Effects on Vegetation

Mites can cause damage to plants in several ways. One example is the feeding behavior of spider mites. They pierce plant cells and suck out the contents, leading to yellowing or browning of leaves. In severe cases, this can result in defoliation and even the death of the plant.

Another example is the cyclamen mite, which infests flowers and foliage. These mites prefer high humidity and tend to avoid light, hiding between the calyx and corolla of flowers. Cyclamen mites cause damage by feeding on the tender parts of plants, leading to stunted growth and deformed leaves.

Comparison Table

TypeHabitatDietDamage to Vegetation
Spider MitesTrees, plants, vegetationPlant sapYellowing leaves, defoliation, plant death
Cyclamen MitesFlowers, foliageTender plant partsStunted growth, deformed leaves

Note: The damages listed are just a few examples and can vary depending on the specific mite species and host plants.

To protect your plants from mite infestations, it’s essential to monitor their health and take appropriate action when required. Early detection and proper treatment can help maintain the well-being of your vegetation.

Demodex Mites and Their Impact

Face Mites

Demodex mites are tiny, microscopic creatures living on your skin. There are two species that commonly affect humans: Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis. These mites are found in places like your cheeks, eyelashes, and eyebrows. They’re most active at night and feed on dead skin cells and oils.

To give you an idea, here are some characteristics of Demodex mites:

  • Size: Demodex mites are very small, about 0.1 to 0.4 mm in length
  • Shape: They have elongated bodies with eight short legs
  • Habitat: They live in hair follicles and sebaceous glands on your face
  • Diet: Their primary food source is dead skin cells, and they also consume sebum

Mites and Rosacea

Demodex mites are not harmful in most cases. However, an overpopulation of these mites has been linked to rosacea. It’s believed that their skin-digesting saliva can cause inflammation and redness on the skin.

Here’s a quick comparison between the roles of Demodex mites in healthy skin and rosacea-prone skin:

Role of Demodex MitesIn Healthy SkinIn Rosacea-prone Skin
Population DensityLowerHigher
Skin InflammationMinimal or noneElevated
Presence of Skin-digesting salivaLimitedLikely to be more prominent

To keep your face mite population in check and potentially reduce your risk of rosacea, it’s essential to maintain a healthy skin care routine. Cleanse your face gently but thoroughly, and avoid using harsh products that may disrupt your skin’s natural balance. If you suspect mites could be causing issues with your skin, consult a dermatologist for advice and treatment options.

Treatment and Prevention of Mite Infestations

Cleaning Practices

To prevent and control mite infestations, it’s essential to maintain good cleaning practices. Regularly vacuum your home, including upholstered furniture and carpets, to remove mites and their eggs. Wash your linens, curtains, and other fabrics in hot water to kill the mites.

You can further reduce mite populations by using an air conditioner or a dehumidifier. This is because mites thrive in warm, humid environments.

Medical Treatments

If you have a mite infestation on your skin, caused by Demodex mites or scabies mites, your doctor might prescribe treatments such as permethrin cream or hydrocortisone. Permethrin cream is a topical medication that can eliminate scabies mites, while hydrocortisone can help reduce inflammation and itching.

In addition to these treatments, your doctor may recommend antihistamines to alleviate itching caused by the itch mite. Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, a substance released by your immune system that causes allergic reactions.

Remember to follow your doctor’s advice and the instructions that come with your medications for optimal results.

Difference Between Mites and Other Arachnids

You might be curious about the differences between mites and other arachnids, such as spiders. Let’s dive into the key distinctions that set mites apart from their fellow arachnid relatives.

Mites fall under the subclass Acari, while spiders are part of the order Araneae. Both groups are arachnids, but they have distinct characteristics. For instance, mites appear smaller and have softer bodies than spiders.

A significant difference is the number of body segments:

  • Mites: two main body segments (gnathosoma and idiosoma)
  • Spiders: two main body segments (cephalothorax and abdomen)

Additionally, mites have shorter legs compared to spiders, and they lack the venomous fangs that many spider species possess. Instead, mites use their mouthparts called chelicerae to feed.

Mites also exhibit variation in their setae, or hair-like structures, that cover their bodies. These structures can serve several purposes, such as sensing their environment or aiding in movement.

Here’s a comparison table to illustrate the differences:

FeatureMitesSpiders
Body SegmentsGnathosoma and IdiosomaCephalothorax and Abdomen
Leg LengthShortLong
Venomous FangsNoMany species
SetaeVarious functionsPrimarily sensory

In summary, while mites and spiders both belong to the arachnid class, they differ in several aspects. These differences include body segmentation, leg length, the presence of venomous fangs, and the specialized function of their setae.

Conclusion

In this article, you learned about various types of mites. Now, you are aware of their distinguishing features and how they can impact your environment. For instance, dust mites are commonly found in households, while scabies mites can cause skin irritation.

You also explored the importance of managing these tiny creatures, preventing infestations, and maintaining a clean and healthy living space. Overall, the knowledge you’ve gained will allow you to make informed decisions when dealing with mite-related issues.

Feel free to use this information to your advantage and share it with others who might benefit from these insights.

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Whirligig Mite

Subject: Spider/Unknown Arachnid
Location: Southern California (near the coast, urban area)
January 8, 2016 11:52 am
Hello, i’ve enjoyed your site for a while now, and just now decided i’d write a letter of my own. Thankfully, I can use correct grammar! I recently (about half a year ago) started getting into photography, and eventually got a nice camera and some lenses, one of which is a Micro Nikkor 60mm macro lens, and I really enjoy it. I’ve loved insects and other arthropods for a long time, and frequently do small bits of research for fun. However, late November last year I noticed many of these tiny red spots moving around my school’s campus here in Los Angeles. Looking closer, I noticed they were actually tiny arachnids. At least, I think they are arachnids. I tried to do a small bit of looking-up, but couldn’t find anything, so now I ask you. What the heck are these? Apologies for the somewhat annoying image, it was the best I could get with how small the things are.
Also, I wanted to include a spider I found in my driveway mid-November or so. Thought this one would be much easier to identify. Whether you choose to do both or just one is completely up to you! I’d just be glad to know what they are. Again, i’d like to apologize if the images are difficult to decipher. I fully understand.
-Igguks, a fan
Signature: Jaden Igguks

Whirligig Mite
Whirligig Mite

Dear Igguks,
We received the following correction on a 2006 posting we titled Predatory Running Mite: “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.”  BugGuide refers to the Mites in the genus
Anystis as Whirligig Mites and we believe that is the correct identification for your Predatory Running Mites.

Wow, thank you very much! It’s actually very interesting to me to find mites around here, especially ones this large. I checked again a few days ago and they’re still all over the place, even in this cold weather. Your fast reply surprised me immensely, and i’d like to once again thank you. I look forward to hearing about the spider!

Letter 2 – Velvet Mite

Red, Very tiny 2 – 3 mm size, and very active.
April 23, 2010
This is a very tiny bug, she have red vivid color, and never stop, always in action, running somewhere. If you touch with a stick or sometling like that, for exeample, with a match, she is suddenly stops and fold the legs, for a while stay put like a death.
Arti…
Turkey, Istanbul

Running Mite

Hi Arti,
Wow, your photos are gorgeous and so full of detail.  This is a Mite, but alas, we are not experts in Mites, so we cannot tell you anything specific about this Mite.  Many mites like Dust Mites, Food InfestingMites, and Parasitic Mites have bad reputations, but we are confident that this is a predatory species that will not cause you any grief.  Perhaps an acarologist can provide a more concrete response.

Hi,
Thank you very much for information 🙂 I found an information from my macro photography group, this was a Velvet mite.
sorry for my poor english 🙂

Thanks Arti,
It is quite small for a Velvet Mite, but thanks for providing that information.

Letter 3 – What’s That Bug????? A Water Mite Nymph

Subject: Pthiraptera? weeeird Hemiptera?
Location: Orlando, Florida
October 6, 2013 7:31 am
Hi Bugman! I’m writing in yet again with an identification request. I found this bug as an ecto-parasite (or maybe just phoretic) on a midge that wandered into a black light trap. What you can’t see in the picture are two little filamentous antennae that stick out from about mid way down the rostrum and the little needle like mouthparts extending from the tip. My original thought was a tick, but there are only 6 legs (none are broken off) and antennae. Then I thought Pthiraptera, but the key I have wasn’t really working out. Maybe it’s some weird Hemiptera? It should be said that the total length of this insect is under 0.5 mm ( it was on a midge after all). Any help you can give me would be great! Thanks!
Signature: Brian S

Unknown "Bug"
Unknown “Bug” is Mite Nymph

Hi Brian,
We are going to request some assistance on this mystery, and we are posting your photo in the event one of our readers is able to assist in the identification.  Are you able to provide a higher resolution image?

Eric Eaton Responds
Hi, Daniel:
This is a real mystery to me, so I am including Dr. Brian Brown in my reply, hoping he might be able to confirm my suspicions that this is actually some kind of wingless fly.  It may not be possible to determine anything from this one image, though, so please don’t hold your breath.
Eric

Hi Daniel, thanks for the quick response! I just figured out a way to get my DSLR to work with my microscope. It’s a little ghetto, but these pics are way better. I even got a picture of the mouth parts! Thanks for posting this bug on the site.
Thanks, Brian S.

Unknown "Bug"
Mite Nymph

Thanks for the better images Brian.  We hope to have some type of answer for you soon.

Mouth of the Creature
Mite Nymph:  Mouth of the Creature

Dr. Brian Brown responds
Some kind of mite nymph (they only have 6 legs).
Brian

Eric Eaton requests clarification
Mites have compound eyes and hair-like antennae?  Otherwise I’d agree with you automatically….
Eric

Dr. Brian Brown requests assistance from Barry OConner
Barry- this is a mite larva, right?
Thanks,
Brian

Barry OConner responds
Hi Brian – Yes, this is a larval water-mite. Species in this group commonly have ocelli (not compound eyes). The majority of these larvae parasitize adults of aquatic Diptera. After engorgement, they drop back into the water and continue life as predators, alternating inactive and active nymphal stages. Don’t know what the reference to “antennae” was; perhaps the palps? Chelicerae in these mites are stylet-like.
All the best! – Barry

Thanks, Barry!

Eric Eaton Closes the Book on the Mystery Creature
Daniel:
I learned something, too, out of all this….
Eric

Letter 4 – What’s That Mite???

Subject: What is it, and how do I kill it?
Location: NE Ohio
July 26, 2013 11:52 am
Hello! My name is Logan (female). I have discovered some kind of teeny tiny bug (mites, I think) in my bed and the area surrounding it. I’ve burned my sheets and vaccummed like crazy, but they’re still there. I havnt noticed any bites, but maybe I’m just lucky. They’re much too small to be bedbugs. I’ve lived in the same house for 19 years and never experienced this problem before. About a month ago I took a trip to Honduras, so I’m wondering if I brought back some hitchhikers. I was thinking they might be tropical rat mites, but I’m not sure because we have no rats or birds they could live on. It’s been hot and humid in NE Ohio. I tried to play detective and looked at one under my microscope. I managed to get some good pictures. If anyone could take a stab at what this creepy bug is, I’d be forever greatful! Thanks!
Signature: Logan

Which Mite is this???
Which Mite is this???

Hi Logan,
This is certainly a Mite, but we haven’t the necessary expertise to determine which species.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to supply an identification.

Letter 5 – Worst Bug Story Candidate

Mouse Mite Hell!
This is my candidate for the Worst Bug Stories page.

Last winter I went through Mouse Mite Hell. Picture a rural street with a few landed houses on one side and nothing but wild land, covered with blackberry bushes, on the other. I lived in a 150 yr-old farmhouse, the pride of my life.

In late summer and early autumn a developer started clearing the property across our small, rural street. Bushes were cut and land bulldozed flat, preparatory to building “upscale” housing.

The local field mice, having no where else to go, decided to become house mice and my 3 neighbors and I were overrun. My house, being old, had numerous “settling” places large enough for a mouse to enter and they overran everything! They even scratched and chewed the headboard of my waterbed, eating the books and chewing the wood. They destroyed my piano. My life became a nightmare of mouse hunting and hole-stopping, day and night. I spent tons of money on steel wool and wood putty and paint to cover it all up. One day my electronic trap killed 6 while my cat did away with 7. In one day!

The result of all of this mouse genocide was that the mites they carried turned to my dogs, my cat and myself for their daily bread. The bites tormented me day and night, first with a fiery burning sensation, immediately followed by intense itching. They woke me up all night long. My pets would jump and cry out and scratch themselves to death.

Despite my dislike of chemicals, I gave in and bombed…nothing changed. A day or two of rest and the mites were back in force. Then, I read on the Net that a strong bleach-and-water solution (1 cup bleach to a gallon of water) would kill the mites. IT WORKED! I’d put the pets out, open the windows and bleach the heck out of every surface that wouldn’t be damaged. I sprayed the cloth furniture with bug spray. Every day. Even dry, the bleach seemed to kill or deter the mites. Even before I plugged the last hole and killed the last mouse, the biting stopped.

I never want to go through anything like that again and I always make sure I have a gallon of bleach in the house…just in case.

I love this site and have recommended it to a lot of people. The work you do is superior and I agree with your liking for insects (except Mouse Mites). Please keep up the good work. (And thank you for the Net’s only intelligent CAPTCHA.)

Sandy

Dear Sandy,
We arent’ sure what a CAPTCHA is, but we thank you for the compliment.  We will be posting your letter and tagging it with the Worst Bug Stories Ever.

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Mites

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi guys,
    CAPTCHA is the ‘prove you’re human’ bit. Most sites use distorted letters that are often undecipherable even to a real human and you end up trying over and over to figure out what it is supposed to be. Your use of a simple question is the best and easiest one on the net as far as I have seen.

    Reply
  • OMG OMG! I can’t believe I am reading a story I nearly could have written myself!
    In September I started getting bitten and after 2 days I discovered a couple of mites on my midsection. Took pics and sample to the vet. They identified them as a northern fowl mite-very rare in San Jose, Ca! Talked to pest control and they said look for abandoned bird or rats nest. Figured out the reason I was the only one getting bit was because they were coming up in kitchen under sink. I crawled under house and found a lot of rat nests, urine, and poops! Cleaned up what I could and sprayed Home Defense all along border of kitchen and rat nests. Under the sink I sprayed flea spray. Within 24 hours they were all gone and have not returned. I registered specifically to comment on this so I will see if there is a place to post pics of this. Amazing this happened to someone else. My vet said they would not bother my dogs but possibly my bird and guinea pigs! I got lucky though. I knew flea spray would kill them and that was my safest option. No need for bleach. Try it if they come back.

    Reply
  • Jim Berreen
    July 27, 2013 3:36 am

    The mite photographed by Logan is probably a dermanyssid from the Mesostigmata and looks close to a member of the Laelapinae . Probably feeds on other mites et al and possibly supplements on fungal/plant material. Suspect bird’s nest in the roof space. Probably cannot feed on humans! Could try clearing the specimens before mounting on a slide! Otherwise, I’m not so sure.

    Reply
  • Just a guess, tick larvae seems to have six legs.

    Reply
  • I am pretty certain that is a type of bird mite, and if that’s the case you should check places on your body where they bite. The biting happen at night, and often in places like behind your ear, along the hair-line, or places on your body where skin folds. Here’s two places you can get good info, birdmites.org & check this great site out with this article …
    they have a you tube page also, search ‘online derm. Good luck, I had a bird mite nightmare & got way too much education on related subjects/problems, before I found the solution.
    Sincerely,
    bo

    http://www.onlinedermclinic.com/archive/avian-mite-dermatitis

    Reply
  • Not harmless to people! I was stung/bitten by one of these in Eastern Ontario recently. I saw the mite running erratically on my arm immediately after feeling the attack. Species was confirmed by a local, experienced Acarologist. The wound swelled up and was itchy for several days.

    Reply
  • Christopher Ramirez
    August 17, 2022 2:26 am

    My home has been victim to water mite nymph parasitism of cicada nymphs and they come out from the drains. Before I knew what was going on I was really freaking out because how cicada nymphs look with all the little mites around it

    Reply

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