APPEARANCE & IDENTIFICATION
Most mites are very small and are rarely noticed unless they cause damage to food, food commodities, plants, or animals. They have two body sections, sucking mouthparts, no antennae, and four pairs of legs as adults and three pairs of legs as larvae. It generally requires a mite expert armed with a microscope to make an accurate identification of the offending mite species.
Most mites are harmless to people and some are actually valued predators and parasites of many kinds of pest insects. However, some mites are definitely pests since they feed on stored products, valuable crops, vegetable plants, and are very annoying when they get inside a house or other building.
Also, many species of mites are associated with medical conditions such as allergies, skin dermatitis, itching, and formation of pustules. Some mites involved in causing medical conditions are house dust mites, tropical rat mites, tropical fowl mites, house mouse mites, scabies mites, and Demodex mites, which cause mange on dogs and other domestic animals. Another very uncomfortable mite is the chigger mite. If you or someone you know has been parasitized by chiggers, then you are familiar with the intense itching and welts they cause when feeding under the skin.
Mites are extremely diverse when it comes to what they eat. Their diet depends upon the mite species and includes such foods as mold, blood, bird feathers, human skin, exudate from destroyed skin cells, plant sap, leaves, dead plants, fungus, and dead animals.
Mites are extremely diverse in their habitats as well as their behavior. Many live in soil or water and many as parasites on plants, animals and humans. Mites will infest such habitats as stores of grain, beehives, dust, other household debris, rodent nests, bird nests, and many different kinds of processed foodstuffs.
REPRODUCTION & LIFECYCLE
The mite life cycle consists of four developmental stages: egg, larva, nymph and adult. Their life cycle usually requires one to four weeks to complete, and when conditions are optimal, mite populations become huge in a relatively short period of time.
SIGNS OF THEIR PRESENCE
Since mites are very tiny, signs of their presence are usually not recognizable by observing mites moving around. However, their activity is often noticed by the damage they cause when feeding on host plants or the symptoms that result as they parasitize humans and animals. Dust mites and others can become the source of serious allergies, and mites such as the clover mite are annoying when they get inside homes and buildings during the spring and fall.
Mite prevention includes a host of various tips and techniques. These include:
- Mites that parasitize hosts such as rodents or birds must be prevented by controlling their preferred hosts. Maintaining effective exclusion of birds and rodents to keep them out of the house will go a long way to preventing the presence of rodent or bird mites
- Maintaining healthy plants that are not stressed by environmental conditions can prevent mites that feed on and damage plants.
- Since many mites have very limited ranges of environmental requirements that support their population development, modifying such conditions as moisture, humidity, temperature, and light can put a lot of pressure upon a mite population’s survival.
- Sanitation and cleanliness both inside and outside will alter the mite’s habitat sufficiently so that mites may not survive. An example is the need to remove house dust to prevent or reduce the development of dust mites.
- While not always a viable option, using plant varieties that are selected for their resistance to mite damage can help prevent mite problems.
- Mites living on plants can be prevented by spraying them with water, plus washing off and removing mite webs.
- Mites can be prevented by using skin and clothing insect repellents.
HOW TO CONTROL
Similar to controlling other pests, the first requirement to control mites is to correctly identify the pest mite and then develop the subsequent components of the control plan, which may include:
- Dormant oil chemical sprays. These are formulations that suffocate overwintering adults on vegetation.
- Use of insecticidal soaps during the plant growing season.
- Using other insecticides to treat mites, always following the instructions on the product’s label.
- Using vacuums to physically remove mites from plant leaves and inside homes and other buildings.
- Using medicated shampoos or other formulations to kill mites and relieve itching on people and pets. Always seek out the recommendations and prescriptions for these materials from your family doctor