Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Skin Mites"/ "Collembola Mites" - Are They Real?

bird/nest mite of hummingbirds

Do you experience any of the following symptoms on a daily and/or regular basis?
  • A crawling sensation sometimes accompanied by feeling "pin prick-like bites".
  • Itchy skin, especially at night.
  • Red skin lesions that resemble flea or mosquito bites, while not able to capture an actual bug.
  • A fear that you and your home/office/car are infested with an unseen bug.
  • You repeatedly wash bedding and treat your home with insecticide in an attempt to rid yourself of this invisible infestation.
If this sounds like you, first of all be assured that you are not alone - the symptoms are very real and widespread. I am asked about these so-called infestations at least several times a week through my bug consulting activities. The cause, however, is not what you may have been lead to believe. These symptoms are not caused by an insect or mite and no amount of insecticide, whether organic or not, will help you solve this problem.

What are so called "skin mites" and "collembola mites"?

The names skin mite and collembola mite are not scientific names for any real mite nor are they accepted common names for a real organism of any kind. They describe a set of symptoms (condition), not the name of an insect or mite.
What exactly do these terms mean? By using the word "mite" both terms are very misleading in that they incorrectly imply that the symptoms are caused by a living organism (a mite). There is no evidence that a living organism is involved, in fact the lack of a clearly identifiable  organism is a hallmark of this condition. My concern is that people will try to eliminate the "mite infestation" with insecticides/miticides which needlessly exposes them to potential toxins and distracts them from searching for the real cause of their discomfort.

From a scientific standpoint the term "collembola mite" is particularly troublesome since collembola (springtails) are an entirely different type of arthropod, not related to mites at all (see Collembola/Springtails for a description). Collembola are harmless soil microarthropods that are abundant in rich, organic soils. Mites are a well-defined and very specific group of arthropods that are related to spiders and ticks, in fact ticks are a type of mite.

"Skin mite" is occasionally used as a common name for a group of mites that are actually parasitic on birds and rodents. Bird mites (see photo above), poultry mites, rodent mites and nest mites are the more widely accepted common names for these mites. These mites DO NOT infest homes and don't require treatment other than removal of the source nest (bird or rodent) and general cleaning (see Bird/Rodent/Nest Mite Biology and Control)

So what causes the symptoms described above?

Certain medical conditions mimic, and are easily mistaken for, bug bites. The skin lesions ("bites") can look similar and are often accompanied by itchiness and a crawling sensation. If you are predisposed by a fear of insects, you may misinterpret these symptoms as "bug bites".

Allergies are probably the most common cause. You can come into contact with allergens (the stuff your body reacts to) in a variety of ways. Airborne allergens like plant pollen and dust mite allergen are inhaled but you can also have direct contact with an allergen as occurs with certain poisonous plants (contact allergens). Food allergens are consumed along with the food we eat. Allergies can affect you in a variety of ways but skin lesions, hives and itchiness are frequent complaints.

Chemical/physical irritants include things as simple as a new brand of laundry detergent, new furniture or carpets, fiberglass insulation, cleaning solvents, and so forth. The list is long and can include products that you would never suspect. In one recent example an individual had lesions that resembled bug bites (and was convinced he was infested) but it turned out that he had started using a new solvent to clean his guns about the same time that the "bites" first appeared.

Reaction to drugs can include prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and supplements, as well as illegal, recreational drugs.

Emotional stress is a potent trigger for all sorts of physical manifestations. For example, I remember as a graduate student that the skin on my hands would start to literally slough off before major exams and seminars because of my long-term anxiety and stress over these events.

Pre-existing illness, some of which are serious, can cause these reactions as well. Since the underlying illness may be serious in some cases, the sooner you get a proper diagnosis the better.

So, my hope is that rather than spending your money on insecticides or expensive application equipment like foggers, talk with a medical professional about your symptoms. Discuss the possibility of allergic reactions but also consider the other possibilities.



Meganj said...

First of all I had all the symptoms you talk about and I was a victim of a Collembola infestation in my house as confirmed by vector control of my local health dept. The specimens were taken from my clean sheets and new Pergo floor. So saying that no hexapod is involved in the crawling symptoms is not true. There is a genetically modified fungus that is infecting people which attracts the hexipods to them. If you care to investigate this we need medical professionals who care enough to do research.

Naturalist Guy said...

Dear Meganj,
Please provide me with a name of the local health department and the vector control contact, that diagnosed a collembola that was infecting people and/or your home. And, as such, please also post the name of the genetically modified fungus that is infecting people. I am intersted in this. Thank you!!

javajane said...

Meganj, please do provide the info and any succesful treatment you used... I have been suffering with this as well and so have my coworkers! Everyone ferociously itches their noses, face, skin under the nose, etc... everyone mentions things like "I wonder if the vents need to be cleaned", or "bad pollen season"... all try to play it off but it is obvious these behaviors of constant itching in an office and in my hbome are not normal and are definitely NOT allergies. I've had allergies my whole life and this is completely different. If I spend more than a hour or so with someone they start touching and rubbing their nose and scratching their face... it is very contagious whatever it is.

sada said...

Sada said...
I am suffering with these symptons and it is driving me mad. I have had someone in to spray the house, have spent money on new bedding, furniture, etc but to no avail. No one seems to be able to help. My clothes seems to have tiny black mites embedded in them. The lack of sleep is the most worrying aspect of this.

totally infested said...


By my name tag you can tell that this is a very serious situation. I have been dealing with this for over 1 1/2 years now and nobody can give me any answers. As I was in my search, I ran accross this artical and you described the symptoms to a tee.I just wish someone could give me some answers. Everyone around me are becoming infested and even my toy Poodle has them to the extent of not wanting to come in the house. Now really, if these were not real don''t you think the dog would want to come in the house. I do believe that if this is not researched
it"will"become a searious epidemic. I have been through pestesides, exterminators and perscription medications. Nothing has stoped them and everyone me is getting them. "HELP ME PLEASE"
I am serious! They are real....

Gail said...

I think what you have is a sow bug infestation--regular woodlice or rolypolys.