Friday, April 16, 2010

Dust mites

(This post is a bit icky.)

A friend of one of my co-workers saw some dust on a light switch one day. Then he noticed that the dust seemed to be moving. He wondered if it might actually be a bug, too small to see, because he'd been noticing bite marks showing up on his two young children.

Being resourceful, he captured some of the "dust" by sealing it in scotch tape, and brought it to his friend in our lab. She doesn't use the microscopes, so she asked me to help out. I stuck the tape under one of the scopes and saw this:


You don't yet understand the full horror. There was an air pocket surrounding the bug, and it was still alive and moving.

Note that its legs and internal organs are in different positions now. (The reddish blotches are internal organs; this bug is transparent.)

Let's have an underside view of the disgusting legs, shall we?

I dunno, maybe I'll delete this post later. :P

Here's another specimen the man captured:

Ugh! Ew! Gross!

And I know I'm a biologist, but I never claimed to be an entomologist!

The unfortunate man whose house contains these bugs will use the pictures we took to identify the species and help the professionals recommend steps to take to KILL ALL THE NASTY BUGS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

I was glad afterward to have had a chance to help. It's most satisfying when you can do someone a favor that would be very difficult for him but happens to be easy for you.


Heather said...

I have no clue what that critter is, but I'm pretty sure dust mites don't bite. They live in bedding, mattresses, pillows, carpet, clothes, and so on, and even on our skin, and they eat dead skin flakes shed by humans. But they don't bite like a flea or a mosquito.

Dust mites are absolutely everywhere, and in huge quantities. A used mattress typically has between 100,000 and 10,000,000 dust mites in it. Some people are allergic to a protein present in the dust mites' excrement, so they are a definite allergy threat, and particularly an asthma threat, but I don't think they bite.

Getting rid of dust mites is nearly impossible. There's no pesticide approved for them, so the frequent washing of linens, vacuuming, and dusting are about the only things to be done. For those especially allergic to dust mites, sealing the mattress and pillow in plastic and wiping it down with a damp cloth daily can provide some relief.

This video talks about dust mites at 3:21

Which leads me to wonder a) what's actually biting the kids and b) if that thing in your pictures is the culprit and not a dust mite after all.

In any event, whatever is biting the kids, I hope he can get rid of them!

Erin said...

That does appear to be a dust mite, and while they don't bite, Heather is right in saying they're both impossible to get rid of, and allergens.

HOWEVER, if there are bites on the children, he might want to look into the possibility of there being bedbugs in his home. We've recently had an increase in the number of cases of bedbugs showing up in America, and they're really tough to get rid of. He'll need an exterminator. And yes, they are both real and pretty nasty. They eat blood, so like mosquitos, potentially carriers of all kinds of nasty diseases. :P

Given we have a mutual friend (Hi Rachel S.!) I should probably not wait until the gross posts to comment....

Rachel Gray said...

Thanks for the etymology lessons, girls! You must be right because that itty bitty bug couldn't even be recognized as a bug without a microscope, so it's surely too small to bite through human skin. I'm going to send your information-packed comments on to the guy who trapped it, and pretend it all came from me so he'll be impressed-- just kidding about the last part. :)

Erin, welcome to the blog. Like most bloggers I'm a sucker for comments no matter what post they're on.

suek said...

I don't know where your friend lives, but if he "saw" it, it wasn't microscopic. I'd recommend he checks out the possibility of the type of tick that causes Lyme's disease - I think it's a deer tick. Not all of the ticks carry it, even if that's what it is, but people in those areas need to be aware.

It seems to have 4 pairs of legs, which makes it an arthropod, not an insect. Insects have 3 pairs. Ticks are arthropods.

I'm not sure if that's a 4th pair of legs or some kind of feelers in front.