Thrips and Clover Mites

Who Done It? A Case of Mistaken Identity

Spring is just around the corner, and after a relatively mild and wet winter, we can expect a large number of pests to be waking up soon. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the early risers that will be causing many Southerners grief this spring.

Clover mites are very small, typically red mites that live in large numbers on and around vegetation. To the naked eye, theses mites look like small, rapidly moving red dots. Clover mites get their name from the clover or other grasses where they are typically found, but they can live on many different types of grasses or even garden plants. Although clover mites may enter your home, they cannot survive inside for very long indoors due to the lack of water and plant life which they need to survive. A short distance from the lawn or garden to doors or windows can factor in to how often these mites invade your home. If clover mites have made it inside your home, avoid squishing them. Clover mites will leave unsightly red stains when crushed due to the pigmentation in their body. Luckily, clover mites feed only on plants, and cannot bite or infest humans or animals. However, because of their small size and the fact that they are mites, many people with clover mites mistakenly assume that any phantom itch or bite is caused by these tiny vegetarians. It is much more likely that they were bitten by insects which go unnoticed due to their very small size.

Thrips also known as corn fleas or storm flies, are tiny flying insects, with some species only half a millimeter, or 0.02 inches in length. In fact, thrips are so small that instead of solid wings like those on a wasp or a butterfly, thrips fly with wings composed fringes or tassels of hairs. They are so small that they use these wings to almost ‘swim’ through the air. Thrips, like clover mites, feed only on plants. They typically feed on fruit, and are a major agricultural pest. Although their feeding usually doesn’t damage or kill the fruit, it can cause unsightly blemishes on the fruit’s exterior, reducing the marketability of the fruit. Thrips feed on flowers and fruit with their unique, asymmetrical mouth parts. The right side of their mandibles are greatly reduced, and sometimes totally absent. The left side has been modified to cut into plants and suck out the fluids.

Thrips are incredibly common, and can be found anywhere plants are found. During the winter they live in the soil and lay their eggs. Adults emerge and look to begin feeding when warm weather begins. When they land on a surface, thrips immediately and automatically use their mouthparts to scrape at the surface in an attempt to feed or drink. Unfortunately, if that surface they land on happens to be our skin, it feels like a sharp bite. It is important to remember that thrips only feed on plants, and cannot take blood like a mosquito. They are simply ‘tasting’ the surface to see if it is a plant they can feed on. Because thrips occur in such large numbers, swarms of them may land on you at a time. Luckily, a shower or bath is all you need to rid yourself of these pesky plant feeders. Additionally, their bites do not penetrate the skin, and are not medically relevant.

Many times things like clover mites are blamed on bites irritations we feel when really tiny thrips are the culprit. Knowing what can and cannot bite or harm us is an important part of identifying what pests problems you are experiencing.

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