It’s that beautiful time of year when the leaves are turning and falling. Oaks, in particular, are a staple of fall beauty and can be found in many elegant landscapes. But, these lovely trees also house oak mites, which create itchy bites that don’t go away easily. Kansas City and the whole state have experienced oak mite outbreaks every year, and 2019 is slated to be an especially bad one. What are oak mites and how do you avoid them?
What are Oak Mites?
Even if you have an oak mite bite, you probably didn’t see it. These tiny creatures are just barely visible, at between 0.2 to 0.8 millimeters. They are drawn to oak trees where their prey, the midge fly, lays its eggs. Oak mites eat the fly larvae when they emerge from their egg. In late summer and fall all of the midges have grown, so the oak mites drop from the tree in search of their next meal.
As they fall, they may land on you. Or, they may end up in your leaf pile, on your picnic table, or somewhere where they will come into contact with you. When they do, they may bite. The bite is not noticeable at first but develops into an itchy welt in about 12 hours. The welt may last up to two weeks. It’s not deadly, but it can be very uncomfortable.
If you don’t remember oak mites from when you were growing up, it may be because they weren’t here yet. Oak mites are familiar in Europe an Asia but didn’t find their way to America until the 90s. In 2004, the mites became a serious problem, biting an estimated 54% of the people in Crawford County. As with other invasive species, there’s not too much we can do to stop the spread of these mites. Instead, we need to avoid them.
How to Avoid Oak Mites
The best way to avoid oak mites is to avoid jumping into piles of oak leaves or sitting beneath oak trees where the mites may be hunting. All oak trees may carry the mites but pin oaks and red oaks are the most common habitats. Further, you can check to see if your oak has midge larvae. If so, the edges of some leaves will be brown and have a crusty shell, which is a midge egg. Trees that have midge larvae are much more likely to have oak midges.
However, no matter how much planning you do to avoid oak mites you may still be exposed to them. They are so light that they are easily carried in the wind. Closing your windows can prevent them from getting into your home. While wearing long sleeve shirts and pants while outside can also help, oak mites are small enough to fit in between the threads of many fabrics.
Further, the jury is out on whether oak mites are affected by insecticides and DEET. Currently, there is no recommended tree treatment or skin treatment that will reduce your exposure to them. Bug spray may work or it may not. However, seeing as you’re probably protecting yourself from other bugs, you may as well use bug spray and see if it helps you. Experts also recommend that you take a shower after you come in from doing your landscaping, so you can wash off oak mites before they bite.
How to Treat Oak Mite Bites
Oak mite bites are likely on your face, arms, or upper body. The most important thing is to avoid itching the bites so that you don’t break the skin and get an infection.
If you suspect you have a bite you can head out to your doctor to get their advice. Dr. Pavika Saripalli, a doctor with the University of Kansas Watkins Health Services told Central Standard that she recommends hydrocortisone to patients bitten by oak mites.
“Invest in hydrocortisone” Dr. Saripalli advised, “Even though they say you can only use it once or twice a day I always tell people, ‘When your hand goes up to itch, put the cream on instead,’ and you’ll be helping that bite go away instead of making it worse.”
Your doctor may also recommend taking antihistamines if you’re having an allergic reaction to the bite, or applying calamine lotion or aloe for comfort.