Biting mites are a number of different types of tiny bugs that bite humans, often causing an itchy welt or rash. Although many different types of mites can infest a home, not all species bite. The most common biting mites are rodent and bird mites, harvest mites, and itch mites. The dust mite, which by some estimates infests nearly half of all homes, does not bite humans; unfortunately, many people develop an allergic reaction to their secretions.
All of the thousands of types of mites, biting and otherwise, are tiny eight-legged arthropods, about the size of a period at the end of a sentence. Their small size means that many people are not even aware of an infestation until they begin to feel or see the signs. In a home, mites live in materials such as carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture, and bed sheets. If the mites brought into the home are of the biting variety, residents will soon become aware of itching, and may sometimes see tiny raised welts at the site where the biting mites insert their fangs. Although their bites can be painful and itchy, most biting mites do not transmit disease.
Types of Mites
Mites are generally of two types: plant-hosted and animal-hosted. Plant-hosted mites do not bite; they live in grassy or woody areas and can be brought into the house unknowingly by people who work or play in the outdoors. Animal-hosted mites are the ones that cause disease and skin irritation. These mites attach themselves to rodents, birds, or other small animals and sometimes drop off their hosts. They can live for a couple of weeks without a host, but if they come across a human, they may attach themselves to their accidental host and make their way into the home.
Most biting mites are not actually parasitic to humans; although they may attach briefly and bite, they usually are transmitted from other animals. Some mites, including scabies and chiggers, do live off of humans, however. In the case of scabies, prescription medication is typically required to kill the mites.
The most common biting mites include the following:
- Rodent Mites — These mites live on rats and mice; when the rodent dies or leaves its nest behind, they can bite people instead. There are three types of rodent mites that regularly bite humans: the tropical rat mite, the house mouse mite, and the spiny rat mite. Of these, the bite of the tropical rat mite is considered to be one of the most painful, leaving itchy welts and irritated skin.
- Bird Mites — Living on several different types of birds, including chickens, bird and fowl mites infest nests and can spread to people who come into contact with infested birds. Pet birds can also become infested. The bites are usually small and itchy, and can last for a week.
- Harvest Mites — Also known as chiggers, only in the larval stage do these mites bite people. Most common in the summer months, they are spread to people walking through grasses or other vegetation. They cling to the skin, usually in areas when clothing is constricted, and can feed for up to four days if not killed. Fortunately, they can be killed by being brushed or scratched away.
- Itch Mites — Sometimes called grain-itch mites, this group contains a number of species that feed primarily on insects. They are often found infesting grain, straw, and other stored products. Their bite produces a very itch rash.
- Scabies — This mite burrows under the skin of infected people to lays its eggs. They cause an allergic reaction, which results in an itchy rash and sores. Scabies is easily spread from person to person, and can also infest clothing, bedding, and carpets. Prescription medication is usually required to kill an infestation, and the home of a person who has scabies must be carefully cleaned to completely get rid of them.
Prevention is the most important method of controlling an infestation of biting mites. Their tiny size means that it is nearly impossible to seal off a home from an occasional bout of mites; there are some measures that can be taken to reduce their chances of infesting a home, however. Tight door and window seals can help prevent some types of mites from getting into a home; cutting back vegetation around a house will also reduce this possibility. People should shower after being outdoors, and clothing should be washed promptly.
If rats or birds are the source of mites, then they should be dealt with first. An exterminator can help eliminate rodents living in a home, and the house itself should be made as rodent-proof and bird-proof as possible by sealing up any points of entry. Homeowners should destroy any rodent nests they find, and old bird nests should be removed and the area cleaned with bleach. If a pet bird or rodent is infested with mites, it should be treated by a veterinarian.
Dealing with an Infestation
If a biting mite infestation happens anyway, there are steps that can be taken to eliminate them. All carpets, drapes, mattresses and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed thoroughly. Bedding, including pillows, sheets, and blankets, should be washed in hot water. Maintaining a regular deep cleaning schedule for the home can help prevent a reinfestation. It may be necessary to repeat these cleaning procedures a number of times before mites are eliminated. For serious infestations, the services of a professional exterminator may be required; there are a number of chemical and natural treatments that are effective in controlling biting mites.