Soil mites are always the source of constant back and forth, disagreements, and division as to whether or not they are good for your plants, outside or inside. Much of the time, they get a bad rap because they are mistaken for other aphids and because those aphids are hostile, the soil mites catch a bad reputation.
There are over 80,000 species of soil mites, but, fortunately for us, they all fall under four categories, which makes them far easier to identify. They are also very tiny and easy to confuse with other aphids. Proper identification is essential before you act for or against these tiny insects.
The worst part about identifying soil mites is how tiny they are. They are so small that they are often either invisible or misidentified unless they are clustered into tight groups. Sometimes, the only sign that you even have soil mites is a sense of movement rather than visible signs.
Since all of the soil mites in the world have been lumped into four categories, that makes it much easier for us to spell out a guide so that you know which soil mites you are dealing with and whether or not you even have soil mites or something far worse. So, what do soil mites look like?
Mesostigmata Soil Mites
Mesostigmata Soil Mites include a broad variety of mites, most notably, the chigger, which is not the most valued and loved mite. The problem with identifying soil mites is that there is such a massive amount of mites to sort through.
Typically, the Mesostigmata Soil mites are tiny, orangish-brown, with a large, oval-shaped body. There are over 8,000 species of Mesostigmata Mites and the ones that we are focused on love to live on plants and prey on spider mites.
Since spider mites are harmful to plant life, this is a good thing and another reason that the benefits of soil mites often outweigh the costs. They also feed on fungi and other insects as they are considered to be predators.
Since there are so many different types of Mesostigmata soil mites, it’s difficult to point to any one of them and say that this is the soil mite that you should look for and identify with any degree of certainty. In fact, there are 68 different types of soil-specific Mesostigmata soil mites.
We can put together a few important points from what we know about this specific type of mite.
- Mesostigmata Soil Mites are primarily predators.
- They feed on spider mites, nematodes, fungi, and other smaller insects.
- Their bodies are oval and generally orange or brown, sometimes a mix.
- They are the least common soil mite to find in your garden.
- Some of them are parasitic.
- They are omnivorous.
If you recognize the fact that there are soil mites in your garden and you properly identify them as Mesostigmata Soi Mites, it might be worth leaving them alone, as they are predatory in nature and will pursue and consume other insects and fungi that are harmful to plants.
They also go after larger insects as parasites, which decreases the overall damage that these insects can do to your plants over time.
Prostigmata Soil Mites
Prostigmata Soil Mites are extremely tiny insects with six legs, very large and long antennae, and funnel-shaped bodies that are generally brownish to pale cream in color. According to scientific measurements, they are lightning-fast and can move at over 300 of their own body lengths per second.
There is a great mixture in what some of the mites that fall under the umbrella of soil-specific Prostigmata Soil Mites eat and do throughout their short lives. For instance, some of them only eat fungi, while others are almost completely carnivorous in nature.
In terms of whether or not they are harmful to the plants around which they inhabit, there is little doubt that they have a negligible effect. Prostigmata Soil Mites are primarily after food, water, and mating conditions, none of which will include your garden plant.
They are also notable for the fact that they use their large antennae continuously as feelers. It’s how they hunt, avoid danger, locate food, locate mates, and avoid obstacles. There are also several mites that fall under the umbrella of Prostigmata that are almost entirely parasitic.
They love to latch on to honeybees as they swoop in to catch some nectar. Others, much like their Mesostigmata cousins, are solely predators, seeking out, attacking, and consuming smaller insects, spider mites, and other insects that are on their typical menu.
They are still considered to be omnivorous, even though some of these mites will focus on other insects rather than fungi and other types of plant life.
- Prostigmata Soil Mites are tiny, fast, and have very long antennae.
- Some are carnivorous.
- They use their antenna as “feelers” to hunt, find water, and move about.
- They are brownish to pale cream in color.
- Some are omnivorous, feeding on fungi and insects alike.
- They are not harmful to your potting plants.
- Some are parasitic, especially with honeybees.
Prostigmata Soil Mites are more predominant than Mesostigmata. If you see one of them in your garden that has very large and long antennae, which it uses to feel about like a bling person with a walking stick, you have probably found a Prostigmata Soil Mite.
Astigmata Soil Mites
The Astigmata Soil Mite is the least common mite when it comes to gardening insect identification. The odds of you having any Astigmata are slim, and none, however, it is possible. The Astigmata typically has a large, bloated, round body.
If anything, it strongly resembles a tick that is completely engorged and is at its full capacity. Like the other soil mites on this list, they are incredibly tiny and will be difficult to see without any kind of visual aid.
Since most of them are brown, it will be even more difficult to see against the dark backdrop of soil. They do not act differently or separate themselves from the other mites in behavior. There are some that are omnivorous, feeding on fungi and other smaller insects.
Other Astigmata focus solely on predation, hunting down, and consuming other insects in your garden or around your potted plants. Some of the Astigmata mites are more dangerous than others in that they are parasitic to mammals.
They prefer hair follicles, so they are not much of a threat to humans. However, they would be more than happy to jump on your pet dog or cat and feed off of them. However, the parasitic Astigmata are a subset, and not all of the Astigmata Soil Mites are parasitic.
The parasitic nature of a small subset of Astigmata Soil Mites makes sense because dust mites and other harmful and invasive insect species fall under the umbrella of Astigmata Soil Mites.
If you have a lot of compost in your garden, it will be far more attractive to Astigmata Soil Mites as they love high levels of nitrogen and the byproducts of decomposition in organic materials. You are more likely to draw them if you use a lot of compost, but that’s not to say you won’t get others as well.
Honestly, Astigmata Soil Mites are not often associated with soil. In fact, soil alone will rarely ever be inhabited by Astigmata Soil Mites. It’s almost always the compost that draws them in.
- Astigmata Soil Mites prefer the decaying organic matter and high level of nitrates found in compost.
- They have large, bulbous bodies.
- They are usually brownish in color.
- They can be carnivorous, omnivorous, or focus almost solely on fungi.
- Some Astigmata Mites are parasitic and prefer mammals.
- They are very tiny.
- Dust mites are part of the Astigmata Soil Mites group.
Gasamid Soil Mites
Of the four categories and 80,000 species of soil mites on our list, almost nothing is generated concerning Gasamid Soil Mites. It’s almost as if this subset of soil mites simply does not exist.
However, they are real, and they are very similar in their habits to that of the Mesostigmata Soil Mites. They are only about 0.3mm in size and are generally brown with a more rounded body that resembles a head attached to an exaggerated mushroom cap.
Like the other soil mites on this list, Gasamid Soil Mites aren’t very picky, with some focusing on fungi, others on predation, but none of the Gasamid are parasitic. They are the longest-lived of the Soil Mites, lasting up to two years.
They’re very good at aiding in the breakdown of organic material in the garden, and you may want to keep them around if you tend to use a lot of compost in your gardening routines.
- Bulbous, mushroom-shaped bodies with a small head.
- Generally brownish in color.
- They are a tremendous aid in the breakdown of the organic material in a compost.
- Longest living soil mite.
- Roughly 0.3mm in size.
Identifying soil mites in your garden or in your potted plants will always be a difficult task, mostly because of the enormous volume of soil mites out there. There are also many soil mites that fall into the four different categories, so you will always have to stay on your toes when attempting to identify them.