Tiny Neighbors

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Sitting on your patio on a sunny afternoon, you may have seen a tiny red dot, small as a pencil point, crawl around at lightning speed, surprising for its size. These are the clover mites, tiny and fascinating creatures, ubiquitous in suburban living.

Many people find these teeny creatures alarming because of their bright red color, which they attribute to blood-sucking. In fact, the red is the mite’s body pigment. Clover mites are not blood feeders and will not harm people or pets. They are not fire ants. As their name implies, they feed on grasses and clovers. Because of their tiny size, they may slip in as visitors inside your house. Be aware that crushing them will create unwanted red stains. They cannot reproduce indoors and if left alone will dehydrate after a few days.

These tiny arachnids have an incredible reproductive power–parthenogenesis. The eggs can hatch without fertilization and hence their entire population is female! Each adult lays about 70 eggs, and the offspring are genetically identical to their mother. One wonders how the creatures survive over the long term with so little genetic diversity.

Clover mites do not like extreme hot or cold temperatures. During summer they enter a dormant torpor called aestivation. The winter is spent in their eggs, in some protected area. Spring and fall is when the mites run rampant. But life is short and sweet for the clover mite. They only have about two weeks to suck on sweet plant juices before their time is up.

Next time you see these little wonders, refrain from smashing them, and instead admire their bright color, speed, and survival abilities.

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