What Do Mites Eat? Unveiling the Diet of These Tiny Creatures

Mites are tiny creatures, often invisible to the naked eye, which can sometimes be found in our homes and gardens. It’s natural to wonder what exactly these minuscule arachnids eat. The answer to that question will vary, as mites have diverse diets depending on their species.

For example, domestic mites are known for feeding on various organic materials, including dead skin cells, pet dander, and even mold. These mites can sometimes cause allergic reactions in humans due to their presence in the household environment. On the other hand, predatory mites play a beneficial role in controlling pest populations by eating other undesirable mites or small insects.

In agriculture, mites can be both harmful and helpful. Some species, like flour and grain mites, can cause damage to stored food products, while others can help maintain a balanced ecosystem and protect crops by feeding on plant pests. Understanding the diverse diets of different mite species can help you better manage their populations and maintain a healthy environment.

What Are Mites?

Mites are tiny creatures that belong to the class Arachnida, just like spiders and ticks. They are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton and jointed legs. Mites are usually microscopic, making them difficult to see with the naked eye. Despite their small size, these creatures have eight legs, a defining characteristic of arachnids.

Mites live in a variety of habitats, such as soil, plants, and even on animals. Some species of mites are notorious for causing discomfort or harm to their hosts, like the itch-inducing Sarcoptes scabiei or the allergy-related house dust mites. On the other hand, many mites are harmless to humans, such as the Clover mites, which are considered pests simply due to their presence in large numbers.

Here are some key features of mites:

  • Tiny arthropods
  • Belong to the class Arachnida
  • Usually microscopic in size
  • Possess eight legs

Mites can be categorized into two main groups: parasitic and non-parasitic mites. Parasitic mites feed on the blood or other bodily fluids of their hosts, while non-parasitic mites consume various things such as fungi, plant material, or even other small invertebrates.

When it comes to mites, it’s important to remember that not all of them pose a threat to you or your environment. Being aware of their existence and their various characteristics can help you better understand these fascinating creatures and, if needed, take appropriate measures to control their populations in your surroundings.

Types of Mites

House Dust Mites

House dust mites are tiny creatures that live in our homes, primarily feeding on dead skin cells from humans and animals. These mites are a common cause of allergies. To control their presence, you can maintain a clean living environment by vacuuming and dusting regularly.

Rodent Mites

Rodent mites are parasites that usually infest rats and mice but can also bite humans when their host rodents are unavailable. To prevent infestation, it’s essential to control rodent populations and seal any openings in your home.

Bird Mites

Bird mites are parasites that primarily feed on birds’ blood, but they can also affect mammals, including humans, when birds are not available. If you have bird nests around your home, make sure to check them and remove them after the birds have left, to prevent bird mite infestations.

Itch Mites

Itch mites are microscopic creatures that can burrow into human skin, causing intense itching and redness from their bites. They can be transmitted from person to person and also infest animals. Washing clothes and bedding in hot water is vital in controlling itch mite infestations.

Scabies Mites

Scabies mites are a type of itch mite that specifically infests humans. They burrow into the skin, causing severe itching and rash. Treatment includes prescription medication and thorough cleaning of clothes and household items.

Demodex Mites

Demodex mites are naturally occurring on human skin, usually causing no issues. However, they can cause problems if their populations become too large, leading to skin conditions such as rosacea. Keeping your skin clean and taking care of your hygiene can help control Demodex mite populations.

Oak Mites

Oak mites are parasites that feed on insects found on oak trees. They can bite humans when they come into contact with them, causing itching and red bumps. To avoid oak mite bites, you can avoid oak trees during infestations or wear protective clothing when outdoors.

Clover Mites

Clover mites are tiny, red mites that feed on plants, but they may sometimes enter homes. They do not bite humans, but their presence can be a nuisance. Regularly vacuuming, sealing cracks, and keeping vegetation away from your home can help control clover mite infestations.

Straw Itch Mite

Straw itch mites are parasites that typically infest straw, hay, and grains. They can cause itching and skin irritation when they come in contact with humans. To avoid straw itch mite infestations, store straw and grains in airtight containers and keep infested materials away from living spaces.

The Feeding Habits of Mites

Mites are tiny creatures that belong to the arachnid family. They can live on various hosts including plants, animals, and even humans. The preferred food sources for mites usually depend on the species, but they feed on a variety of substances.

Insects and Animals: Some mites are parasitic and feed on the blood or tissue fluids of insects and other animals. Examples include Varroa mites that parasitize honey bees and mange mites that burrow into the skin of mammals like dogs and cats. You may also be familiar with ticks, which are closely related to mites and feed on the blood of their hosts.

Plants: Other mites feed exclusively on plant material, including plant sap, leaf cells, and plant tissues. Some popular types of plant-feeding mites are spider mites and russet mites. They can cause significant damage to crops and ornamental plants.

Dead Skin and Hair Follicles: Dust mites are a common type of mite found in homes. They feed mostly on dead skin cells, skin flakes, and hair follicles that are shed from both humans and animals. They are mostly found in mattresses, carpets, and upholstered furniture due to the accumulation of dander in those areas.

Fungi: There are also mites that feed on fungi, especially mold. Cheese mites, for example, are attracted to the mold present on the surface of aged cheese, and their feeding activity contributes to the development of the cheese’s unique flavor profile.

To summarize, the feeding habits of mites vary greatly depending on their species. You will find mites feeding on insects, animals, plants, dead skin cells, hair follicles, and even fungi. So, it is important to identify the particular species to better understand and manage their feeding behavior.

Mite-Induced Conditions and Symptoms

Allergic Reactions to Mites

Mites can cause a variety of allergic reactions, characterized by red, itchy skin rashes. These allergies may manifest as:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy eyes

This is particularly true for people with asthma. The allergens mainly come from mite feces, their dead bodies, and shed skin. Dust mites, for example, are a common cause of allergies in the home.

Scabies Infections

Scabies is a skin infection caused by the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites burrow into your skin, leading to:

  • Intense itching
  • Red bumps and rashes

Scabies is highly contagious, spreading through close person-to-person contact. It’s important to seek prompt medical treatment for scabies to stop the infestation from getting worse.

Demodex Folliculorum Infestation

Demodex folliculorum is a type of mite that usually lives harmlessly on your skin. In some cases, its population may grow out of control, causing:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Inflammation of your hair follicles

These symptoms are often called demodicosis. Speak with a healthcare professional if you suspect a Demodex folliculorum infestation.

Grocer’s Itch

Grocer’s itch, caused by grain mites, is a type of skin irritation. Workers in the grain and food industry are most at risk. Symptoms include:

  • Rashes
  • Itching

Keep grain products sealed, clean, and dry to prevent grain mite growth. Utilize proper skin protection while handling these items.

Dermatitis

Mite-induced dermatitis results from an allergic reaction to mite allergens. Examples of mites that cause dermatitis:

  • Chiggers
  • Itch mites
  • Tropical rat mites

This condition causes red, swollen patches on the skin, often accompanied by significant itching. If you believe you’re experiencing mite-induced dermatitis, seek medical attention for appropriate treatment.

In conclusion, mites and their allergens can cause numerous skin and respiratory conditions. Make sure to consult with a medical professional if you believe you’re experiencing any of these issues.

Mite Habitats

Mites can live in various environments, and their preferred habitats may vary depending on the species. Some mites are commonly found in our homes, while others thrive outdoors. In this section, we’ll explore the typical habitats of mites and where you might encounter them.

Indoor Habitats

Mites, like the ones responsible for causing allergies, are often found in household items such as:

  • Bedding: Sheets, pillowcases, and mattresses can harbor mites that feed on shed human skin cells.
  • Pillows: Both synthetic and natural fillings can provide a suitable environment for mites.
  • House dust: Dust mites can be found in house dust, feeding on skin scales and other organic debris.

These mites are likely to inhabit areas close to humans, including:

  • Face: Mites can be found living on your face, particularly in areas like your eyebrows and eyelashes.
  • Ears: Some mites can reside in the ears, feeding on earwax and skin debris.
  • Mouth: Certain mite species might be present within the oral cavity, living on food particles and saliva.
  • Neck and chest: Mites can also be found on the skin in these areas.

Outdoor Habitats

Mites that inhabit outdoor environments might affect plants, animals, or both. Common locations for these mites include:

  • Foliage: Mites can cause mange and skin irritation in animals.
  • Soil: Some mite species dwell in soil and can cause damage to plants by feeding on their roots or leaves.
  • Garden debris: Organic matter like fallen leaves and compost piles may attract mites.

So, to avoid unwanted mite encounters, ensure to maintain proper hygiene, clean your surroundings, and take care of your indoor plants and pets.

Dealing With Mites

Prevention Methods

To prevent mite infestations, it’s important to maintain a clean and dry environment. You can achieve this by:

  • Controlling humidity: Aim for a humidity level below 50%, using a dehumidifier or air conditioner if necessary.
  • Regular vacuuming: Vacuum your home frequently, focusing on areas where mites may thrive—carpets, upholstered furniture, and mattresses.
  • Washing fabrics in hot water: Launder your bedding, curtains, and clothing in hot water (at least 130°F) to kill mites.

Identification and Removal

Identifying the specific mite species in your home is essential for effective removal. Some common mites include flour and grain mites, eriophyid mites, and scabies mites. Once identified, follow these steps for removal:

  1. Cleaning infested areas: Clean all surfaces thoroughly, including storage areas, countertops, and floors.

  2. Controlling temperature and climate: Adjust the temperature in your home to create an unfavorable environment for mites. For example, scabies mites prefer warmer temperatures, so keeping your home cool can help limit their growth.

  3. Using insecticides: Choose a pesticide specifically designed for the mite species you’re targeting. Follow the instructions on the product label carefully and consider contacting a professional pest control company for severe infestations.

Remember, prevention is key in managing mite populations. By maintaining a clean and dry home, regularly vacuuming, and washing fabrics in hot water, you can reduce the risk of mite infestations and protect your health and home.

Mites and Other Arthropods

Mites are tiny arthropods related to spiders and ticks. They inhabit various locations and have diverse feeding habits. Some mites parasitize animals, while others feed on plants or prey on other arthropods.

Parasitism

One type of mite that causes issues for humans is the acarus sp. These acariasis-causing mites invade and parasitize the human body, affecting tissues from the gastrointestinal tract to the lungs. In addition to causing allergic reactions, these mites lead to health issues like itching and rashes.

Predators

Not all mites are problematic. In fact, predatory mites are beneficial, as they feed on other arachnids, including spider mites. This helps maintain a balance in the ecosystem, keeping harmful mite populations in check.

Here’s a comparison table displaying key differences between parasitic and predatory mites:

Aspect Parasitic Mites Predatory Mites
Feeding Parasitize animals and humans Prey on spider mites
Consequence Cause allergies and acariasis Help control mite infestations
Example Acarus sp Phytoseiulus persimilis

Mites showcase a wide range of characteristics and behaviors, depending on their feeding habits and environment. To summarize:

  • Some mites are parasites, affecting humans and animals.
  • Others are predators, feeding on harmful arachnids.
  • Acarus sp is an example of a parasitic mite.
  • Predatory mites like Phytoseiulus persimilis help control harmful mite infestations.

Now that you’re familiar with the diverse world of mites, remember that not all of them pose harm, and some even contribute to maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

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 – Mite

 

Subject: tiny green beetle-like bug
Location: Albuquerque, NM
December 23, 2013 5:04 pm
Hi guys!
This tiny guy was crawling across our bathroom floor before we put him outside. He’s actually so small that I thought at first that he was a tick. Closer inspection showed that he looks more like a tiny watermelon with legs. 🙂 We’ve done searches but can’t seem to find any picture that matches closely enough for a 100% positive ID. If you can help satisfy our curiosity, that would be great! Thanks!
Signature: Kathy Kubica

Mite
Mite

Hi Kathy,
This has to be one of the smallest digital files that has ever been sent to us for identification purposes.  This appears to us to be a Mite.

Thanks, Daniel!
Based on your narrowing down, I went on to search and narrowed it down further to a clover mite (which, while irksome to have discovered in our home, is admittedly far less worrisome than the sort that nosh on animal life). Thanks for the speedy reply!
–Kathy Kubica
PS: The ID file was so small because it was a zero-in crop from an iphone shot. None of our real cameras could focus within the range and flash-glare of the small bathroom paper cup the bug was in. 🙂

Letter 2 – Mite

 

Subject: Possible mite?
Location: West Virginia
December 30, 2014 7:32 am
Found this little bug on my bedside table. Have been having skin irritations for months. Is it a mite?
Signature: Dar

Mite
Mite

Dear Dar,
You are correct that this is a Mite, but we cannot say for certain that it is a species that can cause skin irritations.

Letter 3 – Mite Corrections from a true expert!!!

 

mite comments
Hi folks – I just ran across your site with the mite photos and
questions. Your identifications and responses are generally good, but I can provide some corrections and additional information for you to use as you see fit.
1. Mites on burying beetles. These are as you indicate, phoretic mites in the family Parasitidae, genus Poecilochirus. Species in this genus all have obligate relationships with silphid beetles. Although they will feed on fly eggs, they also feed from the vertebrate carrion as well.
2. Predatory running mites. 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.
3. “More computer loving mites” 3/21/06. This is a “clover mite”, Bryobia praetiosa. This is one of the spider mites, but Bryobia species don’t make the silk webs most often associated with this group. Bryobia are plant feeding mites that are rather non-specific and often feed on plants growing in lawns or otherwise around homes. This species is unusual in that it overwinters as adults and seeks out warmer places in the fall. They commonly enter houses or other buildings. The spider mites belong to the order Trombidiformes, like Anystis and Balaustium, and many, like Bryobia, are also red in color. The dark material seen in the photo is ingested plant material. These are harmless to people, but will leave a red mark on the wall if you squish them!
4. Computer loving mites (1/3/06). This is a species in the family Acaridae, genus Tyrophagus. One of the most common mites found in homes or other buildings, Tyrophagus putrescentiae, sometimes called the “mold mite” will feed on a wide range of organic materials. They are white, somewhat oblong in shape, and have long body setae. They can be part of the normal “house dust fauna” and may be a minor source for house dust allergy. They’re fairly desiccation tolerant as mites go.
5. Mites in the pantry (12/16/05). This is probably a predatory mite in the family Laelapidae. Species of Stratiolaelaps and Cosmolaelaps are not uncommon in the “house dust fauna” and eat the other mites.
6. Mites on reptiles and remedy (11/10/05). This is the “snake mite”, Ophionyssus natricis (family Macronyssidae). This is a very serious, blood feeding pest of many snakes, especially captive individuals. They can be a mortality factor if the owner lets numbers build up in the enclosure. These mites feed only on blood, but remain off the host unless feeding. They can quickly build up a significant population. Keeping the snake enclosure clean is the best preventative.
7. Unidentified mite, maybe?… (10/07/05). This is a parasitic mite in the family Macronyssidae, genus Ornithonyssus. These are the most common “bird” or “rodent” mites you mention. These are similar to the Ophionyssus mentioned above in living in the nest material and feeding on the host blood. Ornithonyssus sylviarum (the Northern fowl mite), O. bursa (the tropical fowl mite) and O. bacoti (the tropical rat mite) all occur in California; the first two are parasites of a wide variety of birds, the last parasitizes rodents, commonly commensal rats. All readily bite people when the normal host is no longer around. The remedy is to locate the bird nest or get rid of the rat problem.
8. Angelitos – Cool photos of these fascinating mites!
9. Mites on harvester (6/28/05). These are parasitic larvae in the family Erythraeidae, genus Leptus. Leptus species can be found parasitizing a wide variety of arthropods in their larval stage. Post- larvae are predatory.
10. Mites on newborn’s head (6/21/05). Another Ornithonyssus (see above).
11. 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!
12. Locust mites on dragonfly (8/7/04). You’re close here. These mites are related to trombidiids, erythraeids and chiggers, but are actually larval water mites in the family Arrenuridae, genus Arrenurus. Water mites have the same life cycle as their terrestrial relatives (i.e. parasitic larva, predatory post-larvae), but the predatory stages are fully aquatic, living in ponds, lakes and streams. Arrenurus species commonly parasitize odonates. Unlike the red larvae, the post-larvae are a beautiful greenish blue, and are good swimmers in ponds & lakes.
Keep up the good work!
All the best! – Barry
So many mites, so little time!
Barry M. OConnor phone: 734-763-4354
Curator & Professor fax: 734-763-4080
Museum of Zoology e-mail: bmoc@umich.edu
University of Michigan
1109 Geddes Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079

Wow Barry,
You are our new hero!!! We are thrilled your letter came on the anniversary of Carl Linnaues birth in 1707. We have posted your letter in its entirety at the top of our mite page and will post the appropriate corrections with the appropriate letters when we have a moment. If you do not want your contact information listed on our site, we will remove it at your request. Thanks and have a great day.
Daniel and Lisa Anne

Letter 4 – Mite found on Cellular Telephone

 

Subject: Weird tiny bugs I occasionally see on my phone
Location: Dallas, tx
February 16, 2016 7:04 pm
No idea what these are. Have seen them here and there throughout the house but never in groups. They’re always the same tiny size and hard. When crushed no blood seems to show.
We live in a house in dallas. Nice neighborhood. No cleanliness issues.
Please tell me what this bug is.
Signature: Ryan

Mite
Mite

Dear Ryan,
This is some species of Mite.  For many years we have been receiving reports of Mites associated with computers and other electronics.

Letter 5 – Mite Infestation

 

Mites
Dear whatsthatbug.com,
Our apartment has been infested by what we think are mites. The small ones are white-ish, whereas the slightly larger ones are brown. They are about the size of a period at the end of a sentence. Both of us have been bitten all over and the rash and level of itchiness, is about the same as that of a mosquito bite. We see the mites in close proximity to the windows facing the alley between our building and the next. We live in Manhattan so it is not hard to suspect we’ve become the target of either rat- or bird-mites. Could this be the case and if so – what should we do?
Thanks,
Andrea & Jon

Hi Andrea and Jon,
We are cleaning out the mailbox and just discovered your letter. You do have Mites and Bird Mites or Rat Mites are a good guess. It is difficult for us to tell the species based on photographs. Mites are difficult to eradicate and professional assistance is recommended.

Letter 6 – Mite, we suppose

 

Mysterious Tiny Bug
Location: Port Angeles, WA
April 6, 2011 5:25 pm
Hello, I’ve been taking macro photography shots of insects for quite a long time and I hadn’t ever come across this tiny bug before, so I thought I would send it your way to see if you can enlighten me as to its identify. The bug is no more than 0.2 cm across, and I found it on the underside of a rotting piece of alder. Due to its size and semi-transparent shell, I’m guessing it is a juvenile of some form of insect that I might otherwise be able to identify (perhaps a stink bug due to the shape of the shell). Thanks for you time, and look forward to hearing from you!
Signature: Eli Owens

Mite

Hi Eli,
In our opinion, this is some species of Mite, and it has a very unusual anatomical structure.  We cannot find any matching images on BugGuide in the superorder Acariformes.  Perhaps an expert in Mites, known as an acarologist, will write in with an identification some day.

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.

2 thoughts on “What Do Mites Eat? Unveiling the Diet of These Tiny Creatures”

  1. This looks like a mite in the family Uropodidae (broad sense), genus Trachytes. They typically have the thin flange around the body proper as seen in this photo. They’re often found in litter or compost.

    Reply

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