Mites are mostly microscopic but for the most part resemble ticks, to whom they are related, although they are smaller and have longer, more delicate legs. Mites have tear-drop shaped bodies with six long legs, with the front pair in some species being much longer than the other two pairs. Mites can come in many colors, from red, as in the case of the clover mite, to dusky browns and grays. Not all mites are parasites, though there are many described species that prey on plants and animals and they, therefore, have modified mouth-parts appropriate for sucking sap or blood.
Mites belong to the same subclass as ticks. They are some of the most diverse invertebrate animals in the world. Mites are invaluable to the ecosystem because of their role as creatures that break down decomposing organic matter. However there are many species that are parasites to both plants and animals. Some of these species, such as clover mites, dust mites and mange mites are very serious pests indeed. Mites are incredibly adaptive and have made their homes in a wide variety of habitats.
Signs of Infestation
The signs of a mite infestation vary from species to species. In the case of dust mites, for instance, signs of infestation are the allergic reactions of those sensitive to the proteins that they produce. Other mite species may reveal their infestations by the damage to the plants they infest, such as the clover mite, whose infestations are shown by the characteristic silver color that their feeding leaves on plants. With mange mites, infestations are shown similar to that of a flea infestation, with skin irritation, itching and in extreme cases dermal damage. Because of the huge diversity of the class, it is difficult to name any one characteristic of a mite infestation.
Mites thrive in undisturbed environments, like a great many pest species. The type of mite will determine the type of environment that they prefer. Dust mites prefer the type of environment that gives them access to the greatest amount of food possible; in this case, the discarded epidermis of humans. Clover mites and other plant mites prefer a habitat that allows them access to the individual species or multiple species of plant that they feed on. Mange mites prefer to live in areas with access to fresh hosts. The more innocuous mites that feed on decaying organic matter prefer places like wooded areas and rubbish heaps.
A mite’s eating habits are dictated by the type of mite and its environment. For example, dust mites and mites that eat solid foods have chewing mouth parts and live in almost all human habitations. They eat the shed skin cells of humans and break them down with the strong digestive enzyme proteins in their gut, which is what causes allergic reactions. Clover mites, like many species that consume plants, have modified, piercing mouth-parts that allow them to feed on the juices of plants. Mange mites and other mites that feed on animals also have piercing mouth parts that they use to feed on the blood of their hosts, like their cousins, the tick.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment of a mite infestation is dependent on the type of mite. With dust mite the prevention is limited to the ability of the homeowners to cover or sterilize any organic materials or fabrics within the home, such as using specialized covers on pillows and duvets. Treatment involves washing the materials that can exposed to water be in hot water. Clover and other plant eating mites are treated by a series of insecticides. Prevention of many plant eating mites involves restricting their food source. With mites that feed on animals treatment, depending on the species, can be lengthy and difficult for the host animal, depending on when the infestation is caught. Prevention of mange mites involves keeping the animals’ bedding clean and regular testing by a veterinary professional.