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Soil Mites: Identification & Treatment

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  • 0:04 What Are Soil Mites?
  • 0:32 Identifiying Soil Mites
  • 1:56 Are They Harmful?
  • 2:30 Treating Them
  • 3:22 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

After reading this lesson, you'll learn how prevalent soil mites are as well as some common types of soil mites. You'll also learn how to eliminate them if they become a problem.

What Are Soil Mites?

The simplest definition of soil mites is mites that live in the soil. Mites are considered close relatives of ticks and spiders. They are arthropods, having an exoskeleton (no internal bones), and a segmented body with legs coming from the segments. Soil mites are also very tiny, measuring just millimeters long, if that - so tiny that just a small 3.5 ounce (100 gram) sample of soil can contain as much as 500 mites from 100 different genera.

Identifying Soil Mites

Since they're so small, they're difficult to identify with the naked eye. You can easily miss them by just casually glancing at your soil. But, if you look closely, you might see tiny dots moving around in there. If they aren't ticks or spiders, then they're probably soil mites. They can be white or brown, or some other color.

A closeup of an Oribatei mite
soil mite

There are many types of soil mites, but four suborders are the most commonly found: the Oribatei, Mesostigmata, Prostigmata, and Astigmata.

The most common of these four is the Oribatei, the oribatid mites. These are also called turtle mites because they have a large shell-like body that looks similar to a turtle's shell. Oribatid mites don't grow more than a millimeter in length, so you'll need a microscope to really see them. They eat algae, fungi, dead plants, tiny dead insects, and tiny live worms. For the most part, these are scavengers and not predators. You can find these mites in the top layer of soil and also on lichens and mosses. They're also found in compost.

The Astigmata - astigmatid mites - are usually found in soils that are rich in nitrogen such as on farms. The Mesostigmata - the mesostigmatid mites - are mostly predators feeding on other small animals. The Prostigmata - prostigmatid mites - is a suborder of a number of mites who all feed differently.

Not much is known of soil mites, but they are being studied and more information is being found about them. In 2001, about 20,000 soil mites had been identified with an estimate of 80,000 different kinds of soil mites in existence.

Are They Harmful?

Now, the big question: are soil mites harmful to people? So far, all the research on soil mites actually indicates that they are beneficial and in fact an extremely important part of the whole decomposition process. Without soil mites to help break down decaying organic matter, plants wouldn't have nutritious soil to sink their roots into, and as a result animals and humans wouldn't survive.

They can become a nuisance if they enter your homes and begin settling into your potted containers, or if they begin to crawl all over your patio. Soil mites can also pose a health hazard as they can carry parasites such as tapeworms that can be transmitted to humans.

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