What Are Paper Mites?

It is an altogether too common experience. Someone in your office spent some time working around the filing cabinets and walked away complaining that something had “bitten” him while he was over in that area. Pretty soon someone else feels the biting and crawling sensations on their skin, and another, and another. Someone mentions “paper mites”, and the word is out that the office needs to be sprayed to get rid of the darned things.

The receptionist went home that night, told her husband about the hordes of mites attacking them at the office, and the next thing you know HE is infested too, a victim of the mites jumping off his wife and onto him as they talked. So, now he’s scratching, and maybe the kids even get infested.

Paper Mites Dont Exist

Let’s remove one urban legend right up front – Paper Mites!  There simply is no living organism that is called a “paper mite”, and yet these critters are consistently blamed for causing bites or allergies on people. Even professional medical people often diagnose a cause of someone’s skin rash or bites as paper mites.

Where this began has been attributed several times to the tiny flecks of paper that would sift off of packaging as workers moved things around. These flecks would land on the hands or arms, perhaps cause itching or irritation, and began to be called “paper mites” as a joke. Unfortunately, the joke took on a life of its own.

Other culprits could be flecks of fiberglass from insulation or vents, particles from new carpets, and excess dust caused by renovations or moving furniture around.

What kinds of mites could be in buildings?

There are a number of kinds of mites that routinely do occur in homes or workplaces. In fact, most people carry mites around on them all the time without realizing it. Most of us have microscopic mites called Follicle Mites living in our pores and at the base of hairs. They are a natural part of our own personal ecosystem, and generally are never detected.

But, there are many other mites that could well be living with you, and they can cause effects ranging from annoying to severe. In general, perhaps, we could place these mites into one of two groups:

  • those that cause irritation and allergic responses
  • those that feed on us

What kinds of mites actually bite people?

Probably the most common mites that will occur in structures, that actually do bite humans, are the mites associated with birds and rodents. These are, appropriately, called “bird mites” or “rat mites”, and if you have birds nesting or roosting on the structure, or rodents populating the building, you can assume they have brought some of their nasty parasites with them. This becomes a particular problem when the birds finally leave or the rodents are removed in a rodent control program.

Bird Mites

One common cause of bird mites coincides with the annual building of huge numbers of mud nests, by swallows, under the eaves or other overhangs of buildings. These birds and their babies are protected by law, and you may just have to wait them out. Large gatherings of pigeons on building ledges or rooftops also may seed the structure with their mites, that methodically crawl down into the living areas or work areas, seeking other warm bodies to attack.

Rat Mites

Rat mites, the Tropical Rat Mite in particular, is a common associate of our three domestic rodents – the House Mouse, Roof Rat, and Norway Rat. Keeping these pests out of our buildings is a vital step in keeping their parasites out too, and the removal of a large population of rodents should take into consideration the possible need for parasite control as well.

Another kind of mite that very definitely bites humans is called the Scabies Mite, or mange mite. This microscopic parasite burrows into the skin or feeds on top of it, causing skin rashes and intense itching. However, there currently is no evidence that they can be transmitted by any means other than close personal contact, so all recommendations are that pesticide applications to the area will do no good and should not be done. Scabies is a problem for a physician to control.

What are some of the mites that cause allergic reactions?

Without a doubt, the most common of these has to be the lowly Dust Mite. Unlike “paper mites”, these guys are NOT a myth, and in fact may be present in vast numbers in a building. They are scavengers, and along with various kinds of organic junk they find to eat, their main diet consists of tiny flakes of dried skin – called “dander”. There is an old expression that goes “Now, don’t get your dander up”, meaning don’t get unnecessarily upset, but I’m not quite sure how it relates.

These microscopic mites crawl over surfaces, feeding on the bits of organic material, and are so small they easily get blown around in wind drafts. Like all arthropods, they also shed their exoskeleton regularly, and this material is even more likely to become airborne and inhaled, causing large numbers of people to suffer severe allergic responses to it.

Other common mites are those that feed on molds or damp foods, such as Mold Mites, Grain Mites, Cheese Mites, and Cereal Mites. It is not uncommon to actually find PILES of Grain Mites in a cupboard or under the sink, as a result of a large number of them finding some dampness and the resulting mildew growth as food. You might even find an old, forgotten dried salami, with a coating of hundreds of thousands of the mites crawling around on it.

When these microscopic, light colored mites find themselves on our arm, they crawl around. We can feel it, but they may be virtually invisible, so our imagination begins to work and we begin to scratch, and someone reinforces it by saying something is eating you, and away we go.