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Eyelash Mites: Physical Characteristics & Facts

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Creepy critters crawling on your eyelids? This lesson will explore eyelash mites, describing what these animals are as well as some interesting (and disturbing) facts!

What is an Eyelash Mite?

You probably have them: tiny, creepy crawly critters hanging out on the hair follicles of your eyelids, eating dead skin and oils. Yuck. So, what sort of weird mysterious creature is feasting on your flesh?

The answer? An eyelash mite, which is actually a group of around 65 species all belonging to the genus Demodex that inhabit the hair follicles of mammals. There are two species that live on humans: Demodex folliculorum (which is usually found in hair follicles) and Demodex brevis (which is usually found in sebaceous glands associated with the hair follicles). Don't let those long scientific names scare you, we'll just call them collectively Demodex.

Hair follicle
hairfollicle

So, how common are these mites? Different studies show different rates of infestation, but the trend suggests infection rates increase with age. For example, one study found the following rates of infection:

  • 43% of those aged younger than 20 were infected
  • 66% of those 20 to 40 were infected
  • And those older than 40 had an infection rate of 85%

Physical Characteristics

You may be rushing to look at your eyelashes in the mirror to see if you have any Demodex clasping on. Don't bother. They are tiny and you can't see them. Depending on the species, they are only about 0.15 to 0.4 mm in length. To put that into perspective, one millimeter is about the thickness of your credit card. Their body has scales, and is partially see-through (kind of creepy).

An artist rendition of Demodex folliculorum
demodex

On average, the mites only live about 14 days total. Males will come out of your pores and will mate with females and then the females will lay her eggs in a pore. Want more disturbing facts? They cannot poop, so their bodies fill up with waste their entire lives. When they die they just breakdown on your eyelids (or face, or wherever they live). So, you have mites having sex and not pooping on your eyelashes. Charming.

Doctors determine you have these mites by taking a skin biopsy (or a portion of your skin) and then looking under a microscope.

More Facts

Demodex isn't partial to just eyelashes. In fact, they can be found on the ears, neck, scalp (if balding), nose, and eyebrows. But wait! Their homes are not limited to heads. They can be located in the labia, penis, chest, and buttock. There's more, but you get the gist.

You may be wondering if you're infected. Most people do not have any symptoms and continue to live their lives happily alongside Demodex. But, on occasion, they can cause some problems. This occurs when the mites have a population explosion, or the person has a suppressed immune system.

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