Oak Leaf Itch Mites Return to KC: What You Need to Know

The microscopic pests that live on the leaves of some oak trees can wreak havoc

Los Angeles Times













If you’ve been scratching furiously at mysterious red welts on your body, you’ve probably been bitten by oak leaf itch mites, pests so small they are invisible to the naked eye.


What Are They?

Oak mites, also known by their scientific name Pyemotes herfsi, cause intense itching in humans when bitten. The arachnids are most problematic during autumn, after they’ve spent all summer feasting on the larvae of gall midges (flies that nest in oak trees). The mites fall on anyone who happens to be passing by their home and bite anything they touch. Victims don’t realize that they’ve been bitten until hours later when they experience intense itching. The mites are even small enough to blow through screens of open windows and into your home.

Where Did They Come From?

Researchers believe the pests made their way to the U.S. in the 1990s from Central Europe. They have spread throughout the Midwest, with outbreaks occurring every three to eight years.

oak leaf itch mite

mite bites - photo courtesy of Living With Insects


How to Treat Bites

An itch mite bite is a large, itchy welt that typically forms a pimple-like center. After being bitten, the first rule is to resist the urge to scratch. Scratching can cause a secondhand bacterial infection that can leave scars. If the bite grows bigger than a quarter, call a doctor. To help combat the urge to itch, apply a topical cream like Lanacane or calamine lotion. Taking over-the-counter antihistamines like Zyrtec or Benadryl can also help.

How to Prevent Being Bitten

Unfortunately, these little critters can’t be killed by pesticides or any other kinds of sprays. Insect repellent is a no-go also because the mites aren't specifically targeting humans like mosquitos do. The best way to prevent being bitten is to wear hats and clothes that cover your skin when you go outside. Also, avoid walking under red oak trees and pin oak trees. When you go inside, take a quick shower right away to rinse off the bugs. Remove and launder clothing before wearing again.

Oak mites and their bites can be annoying, but they won’t be lasting long. They usually die out after the first hard freeze. We never thought we’d say this, but hurry up, Jack Frost!

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