Mites are minute relatives of spiders and scorpions, and are members of the order Acarina. The total number of mites is not known but there may be in excess of a million species. Little is known on the habits of many mites, and new mites are being discovered all the time. Some, however, has as great an economic importance as insects and are now being closely studied.

Mites are found everywhere: in the nostrils of seals, among the gills of crayfish, and on the hearing organs of moths. Others cause plant galls, a few live in the sea, and many eat decaying matter, such as the cheese mite that feeds on decaying cheese. Mites are also found in the Antarctic where they feed on fungi, moss, and algae.1

In fact, many of us have mites (demodex folliculorum) inhabiting the hair follicles in our eyelids, eyebrows, ears, and noses. They cause no trouble, but magnified a few hundred times, they look quite prehistoric.3

Mites Can Attack Humans

Itch mites attack humans. They burrow in the skin. Scratching the sources of irritation increases the risk of infection. Some mites transmit diseases directly, such as scrub typhus. Some mites that live on dandruff and sloughed skin trigger asthmatic attack when they are inhaled with household dust.1

Types of Mites

Many mites are free-living and many are parasites of other animals. The free-living mites are most abundant in the soil and in debris, where their population may number several million per acre. Some parasitic forms are important pests of man and animals. Chiggers are annoying pests of man, and a few act as disease vectors. Scab and mange mites are pests of both man and animals. Spider mites are serious pests of various cultivated plants, especially orchard trees and greenhouse plants. Water mites, many of which are reddish or orange, are common inhabitants of ponds.2

"Paper Mites"

"Paper mites" is a fictitious term used by a person with some sort of allergies which he or she associates with mounds of paper. Booklice are neither mites no lice, but insects which belong to the order Psocoptera. These are small, soft-bodied insects with three pairs of legs and measuring less than 1/4 inch in length. They may or may not have wings. They have been reported as causing allergic reactions in places with large amounts of paper. They feed on molds, cereals, fungi, pollen, and dead insects. Their preferred habitat is moist areas and humid environments, and they rarely cause damage to spaces they occupy. They are, however, a frequent nuisance to allergy sufferers.4

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Clover Mite

Clover mite (Bryobia praetiosa) is a relatively minor turf pest, but it becomes a real nuisance when hordes of the mites migrate into homes or offices. This mite does not bite humans or pets, or feed indooes, but it can be quite annoying. Squashing tem leaves red stains on light-colored walls or curtains. These mites feed on a variety of plants including Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and clover. The adult mites are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They are dull reddish-brown to greenish. Clover mites are "cool season" mites that active mainly in the spring and fall.5


  1. International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Robert Burton
  2. A field guide to insects: America north of Mexico. Donald J. Borror, Richard E. White
  3. Oh, yuck!: the encyclopedia of everything nasty. Joy Masoff, Terry Sirrell
  4. Environmental sampling for unknowns. Kathleen Hess, Kathleen Hess-Kosa
  5. Destructive turfgrass insects: biology, diagnosis, and control. Daniel A. Potter

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