M is for Mighty Mite

Dust MiteAs it is the week for M on ABC Wednesday, I thought I might write about the mighty mite, with thanks to the QI Book of Animal Ignorance.

Mites are eight-legged members of the spider clan and after insects are the most diverse group of creatures on the planet. Over 48,000 species have been identified so far, but this is probably just a fraction of the total.

The problem for the bugologists is that mites are so tiny and they can live almost anywhere, on land or sea, from the freezing depths of the ocean to hot springs that would boil most other life away.

Mites can thrive in the windpipe of a honey bee or hitch lifts between flowers on the beak of a hummingbird. One square foot of forest floor contains one million mites from over 200 different species.

Eyelash MitesAnd they’re right in front of your eyes as well. Demodex folliculorum (right) burrow into the base of your eyelashes to feast on the oil from the sebaceous glands.

They burrow in head first and have a digestive system so efficient that they don’t produce any waste and when they die, they simply dissolve away.

The species we’re most familiar with is the dust mite, or “skin-eating feather-stabber” to translate its Latin name. They eat the small bag of skin flakes that each of us loses every year.

Dust MitesThey’re responsible for that musty smell you get when using a vacuum cleaner or emptying the bag, caused by their digestive enzymes. Even though they can aggravate asthma, dust mites do an important job of getting rid of waste.  Vacuuming just redistributes them about the house, while carpet cleaning simply creates the warm, moist conditions for them to thrive.

Mites can be a problem, of course. They cause scabies and viruses such as Lyme disease, dermatitis and typhus. One species almost wiped out the honey bee and mites cause billions of pounds worth of damage to crops each year.

But they have something in common with the dinosaur — both were given their Latin titles by Lancastrian-born biologist, Sir Richard Owen, founder of the Natural History Museum.

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Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

9 comments… Add yours
  • rog 13th April 2011

    Very informative. And yucky.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Jennyta 13th April 2011

    Well, I don’t think I’ll be wanting any lunch now, SP! 😉

  • Meryl 14th April 2011

    OOh, now I’m itchy all over. But this was a pretty cool post.

  • Yorkshire Pudding 17th April 2011

    This is the kind of post I like. But what I’d like to know is this – Is the pen miteier than the sword?

  • Paul Schuback 23rd January 2015

    I wonder why they exist? Benefits? (am I being elitists?). Thanks.

  • Monika 15th August 2016

    “Mites can be a problem, of course. They carry viruses that cause scabies, Lyme disease, dermatitis and typhus. ”
    Dear Author,
    viruses do not cause scabies. Scabies is caused by mites, Sarcoptes scabiei type. Lyme disease is not a virus disease – it is caused by spirochetal bacteria, not a virus.

  • Doris 25th May 2022

    Does head mites cause you to lose your hair in clumps.


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