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What are Mites?

Michael Anissimov
By
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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Mites (subclass Acari) are an extremely diverse group of arachnids, closely related to spiders and scorpions. They are small and ubiquitous — even if a room looks perfectly clean, it is home to tens of thousands of tiny dust mites. These creatures are among the most diverse subclasses of life, with over 45,000 known species, and an estimated total approaching one million. Because most species are microscopic and tropical, their diversity has been poorly characterized.

Although mites are the most successful group of arachnids, most of them are less than 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) in length, meaning people never see them. Dust mites are among the smallest varieties, about 0.01 inches (0.3 mm) in length. Immature mites may be even smaller. Some of the largest are ticks, the bloodsuckers that spread Lyme disease.

Like some other arachnids, mites are among the oldest known terrestrial creatures, with fossils going back to the Devonian period, 400 million years ago. These creatures lived among some of the earliest land plants. Like other common invertebrates, such as nematodes (transparent microscopic arthropod worms), mites are totally ubiquitous, having colonized pretty much every known terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitat, including polar and alpine extremes. They are one of the few animals found in Antarctica. The three main lineages are called Opilioacariformes, Acariformes and Parasitiformes.

In soils, mites can be found buried as deeply as 33 ft (10 m), in water almost freezing or as hot as 122°F (50°C), in barren deserts, deep sea trenches, and many other places. A typical square yard (or square meter) of forest floor litter may contain around one million mites, representing 200 species in at least 50 families. Individual and diversity counts for why they outnumber practically any other animal except for nematodes.

To get rid of dust mites from clothing, they can be washed them at a high temperature. Dust mite excreta can cause various allergic conditions, such as hay fever, asthma and eczema and atopic dermatitis. To control the population in a home, it is recommended that blankets and other bedding be washed regularly at high temperature.

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Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Oct 13, 2013

@fify-- I don't think that mites have any benefits. They're parasites that live off of living things and usually give them disease as a result. Lyme disease, scabies, allergies and eczema are all thanks to mites.

By fify — On Oct 13, 2013

@anamur-- As far as I know, there are two types of mites that live on human skin. They belong to the category of Demodex mites.

We all actually have Demodex mites on our skin, especially on our face. They feed off of oil and dead skin cells and some people say that they even do us a favor by doing this. But some people have an immune system reaction to them, in the form of a rash, acne or even rosacea.

I've heard that tea tree oil can kill mites. That might be worth a try. The other alternative to washing everything in hot water is freezing them. Freezing clothes and sheets will get rid of mites. Ironing also kills them. If your bed is infested, you need to cover your bed in plastic.

By serenesurface — On Oct 12, 2013

What category of mites do bed mites belong to?

I have an infestation at home and I'm quite sure that I picked up the mites from a hotel, since I travel a lot. They bite at night and cause red, little bumps on my skin. I need to get rid of them, I might call someone for mite control and extermination. I've already washed everything in the house, so I don't know what else to do.

Michael Anissimov

Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology...

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