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Bird Mites: What you don't know can hurt you

December 30, 2020
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Image how you would feel if you had an irritating itch that wouldn't go away. Maybe you have more than one with a small rash, and over a few days, they start to multiply. You don't see any apparent cause. It's not dry skin, not itchy clothing. You begin to reason that maybe it's an insect bite, but from what? Looking around, you see there is no obvious sign of any insect infestation. 

Most people don't know this, but the tiny and hard to detect bird mite is known to bite humans. Mite infested animals such as rodents and birds often find refuge in manmade shelters. Outside you may see birds roosting on window sills or a single rat scurrying along a rooftop and hiding in crawlspaces, and it all seems innocent enough. 

What if it wasn't that simple? What if the birds and rats brought friends? Insects are opportunistic creatures, to begin with, but birds and rodents often carry parasites. 

[A parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host (plant or animal) and gets its food from or at the expense of its host.]

What happens if the birds or rodents leave and their little "friends" stay behind? Well, what happens is that these parasites find in a new host. In a pinch, any mammal will do. Experts tell us that bird or rat mites can survive without primary hosts for six weeks or longer, feeding incidentally on humans and their pets that entire time, often causing red itchy welts. 

This means that while humans aren't the ideal substitute for these parasites, but they will "make due" with us until they find a perfect host or die. For the parasite, it's life and death. For us Humans, it is a major annoyance.  

We can now see how mites will infest our homes, and it is easy to imagine the psychological stress when bites cause mysterious rashes on the skin. To help catch the mites and determine what kind of pest you have in your home, you can use sticky traps and glue boards placed at floor-to-wall locations. After some time has passed, look at the traps with a 10x hand lens to see if you've caught anything. 

Biting mites are a yellowish whitish color until they feed, then they are a dark red color. Think about what areas of the house you are getting bit the most. Those areas could be where they are hiding, and there is a possibility you or a pest control specialist may see them in action. You can preserve them in ethanol or rubbing alcohol so that a proper identification can be done by a specialist. 

Once the mite species have been confirmed, you can figure out the procedure needed to remove the hosts and their nests. Mites cannot use humans to reproduce, so when the initial hosts have been removed completely, the mites will slowly start to die off. Slowly dying could mean six weeks or more if they are still feeding on humans and pets. It's best to seal off any entry points of where the nest was to prevent more mites coming in. Vacuuming regularly and cleaning all surfaces will help kill off the wandering mites. It also may be helpful to pull beds away from the walls. The mites are soft-bodied arthropods, which means they are vulnerable to contact insecticides like oils and soaps. These can provide a short term repellency. Residual insecticides may be effective as well and should be applied in suspected areas where bites occur and where the mite sources may be. It's important to know that unless the host is removed, the insecticides will not solve the mite problem at hand.

For more information reference this Pest Control Bulletin from the University of California. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PDF/PUBS/greenbulletin.2020.fall.pdf

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