Dead skin, sweat, and DUST MITES!!!

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
Creative Commons License photo credit: Banalities

I’m sure most of you have seen the commercial, I believe by Mattress Firm, where two men are replacing a woman’s mattress. They tell her that she should replace her mattress every 8 years because after that long, it doubles in weight from all of the dead skin, sweat, and dust mites. She them repeats, in a disgusted and frightened tone, DUST MITES?? That commercial drives me crazy because like any normal Entomologist I think, dead skin and sweat, eww gross!! I’m certainly not grossed out by the thought of dust mites.  They are, after all, decomposers that feed on things like dead skin cells. That might make you cringe, but they are basically little cleaning machines, like all decomposers. So I was wondering what would make people more upset about dust mites than they are about dead skin and sweat. SoI found out!

First a little bit about dust mites. The house dust mite is an arachnid, like all mites, that belongs to the order Acari. Acari also includes ticks. Mites are a very successful and diverse group of animals with about 42,000 species found all over the world. They can be parasites, predators, herbivores, detritivores, or decomposers. Unfortunately for them, many are considered to be pests on plants, animals, humans, and especially in the home, such as dust mites. House Dust mites (Dermatophagoides spp.) are very tiny, but visble without a microscope. The adults are typically about .4 millimeters in length. They are common in most households and feed off of organic debris, human skin cells and animal dander, which is what dust is mostly made up of, hence the name. For this reason, they are mostly found in places like beds, carpet, and other soft pieces of furniture.  They cause no harm to us and would go largely unnoticed if it weren’t for one thing. They are animals and when animals feed, they have to defecate.

The fecal matter of dust mites is highly allergenic due to some of the enzymes within it. Therein lies the problem. Many people have allergies ranging from annoying to severe and sometimes these allergies can induce asthma. Some of these chemicals are also present on partially digested pieces of dust. Most of these allergies can be treated with over-the-counter anti-histamines, but in more severe cases, a game plan may be needed. The idea, as with any pest, is to reduce harborage, or make it a less pleasant place to be. Wood or other hard floors are always a better choice than carpet because they are easier to clean thoroughly and dust mites cannot thrive in/on them. All soft furniture and bedding should be washed regularly. Ten minutes in a hot dryer is enough to kill all stages of dust mites because they are very sensitive to dessication, so the hot dry conditions in the dryer are lethal. Just like with any other pest, removal of clutter, dirt, and food sources usually does the trick. At least once a week, you should dust, vaccuum, wash all of the bedding and anything else washable. This will lead to a relatively mite-free home. If you do have asthma, there are certain mattresses and types of bedding that are actually mite proof!  If you don’t have allergies to dust mites, you can relax a little. Dust mites have been around for millions of years and are probably on most soft surfaces you come into contact with!  I’ve said before that people should just get used to the idea of tiny organisms crawling around and on us! Most people have microscopic mites living in their hair follicles that feed on dead cells and sebacious, or oil gland secretions. These are known as Demodex folliculorum or face mites. There are thousand of other organisms, but they keep us clean and healthy. Plus, they’re not nearly as gross as dead skin and sweat, eeew!

CW39 did a story on dust mites last night, and they interviewed me! Watch the video below.



Can’t see the video? Click here.

Hug-A-Bug, This Saturday!

Spring is almost here (thank goodness!) and soon Houstonians will be working in their gardens like busy little bees. You can fill your garden with some wonderful plants from our annual spring plant sale, which will be held on April 10th. Before then, however, you can take the opportunity on Valentine’s Day weekend to learn about the world of beneficial insects at Hug-a-Bug! Put those pesticides down because your garden will love you, if you love bugs!

Stop And Smell The Flowers
Creative Commons License photo credit: I Shutter

Pests can be a pain in your garden, but Mother Nature has a plan. This is where beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, come into play. Pesticides can harm creatures of all walks of life, not only targeting the pests, but beneficials such as butterflies and bees, not to mention defenseless animals such as frogs, toads, and lizards. They can also leave residue on your plants. Biological control is the most eco-friendly and effective method. Here are a few beneficial insects you’ll meet at Hug-a-Bug, and you can even purchase for your own garden.

LadybugsAhh ladybugs - beautiful, peaceful, and fierce predators! Most people are under the impression that these cuties of the bug world feed on nectar, but they are actually hungry for blood – aphid blood! Ladybug larvae and adults feed on plants pests, especially aphids. If aphids are in short supply, they will go after other soft-bodied pests such as whiteflies. At Hug-a-Bug, we will be giving away vials of ladybugs for you to release in the butterfly center or even in your garden at home!

Green Lacewing - Chrysoperla carnea
Creative Commons License photo credit: yaybiscuits123
Green Lacewing

Green Lacewings - Not familiar with these guys? Well, pay attention to your front porch light at night and you might notice these dainty little bugs flying around. The adults have a green body with large, lacy looking wings - hence the name! The adults are harmless pollen and nectar feeders while the larvae, like ladybugs, munch on soft-bodied plant pests.

Parasitic Wasps - When most people hear the word wasp they think of red wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. These are of course not favorable to people because of their nasty stings. But the vast majority of wasps go completely unnoticed by people. They are tiny and parasitic on other arthropods. Each species has a specific host, whether it is a type of caterpillar, aphid, mealy bug, scale, or whitefly. These tiny wasps have no stinger and buzz about protecting our plants from pests.

Afican Praying Mantis
Creative Commons License photo credit: SMB(spidermanbryce)

Praying Mantis - You know this is one of my favorite bugs! Highly intelligent, expressive and thoughtful, they are just fascinating! Most people know the praying mantis because of its distinct appearance. They may not be quite as beneficial as some of the more specialized predators, but they are a friend to your garden none-the-less. If you don’t like larger bugs such as caterpillars or grasshoppers munching on your foliage, these are for you!

Mother Nature is truly incredible! For every plant’s pest, there is a predator or parasite out there to keep them in check. If you let nature run its course in your yard, you will have a very healthy little ecosystem to observe and admire.

If you need any help, all of these bugs can be purchased in large quantities from many places including Rincon Vitova, a pioneer in biological control.

I hope you will come join us at  Hug-a-Bug this Saturday, February 13 in the Cockrell Butterfly Center from 11 to 2 to learn more about these fascinating beneficial insects and see them up close and personal. There will also be fun crafts and games for the kids and a chance to talk to the butterfly center’s very own staff of entomologists and horticulturalists. We hope to see you there!