Tilted version of "Know Your Little Red Mites" infographic

Know Your Little Red Mites: A Guide

Infographic with illustrations and descriptions of four common red-coloured mites
The infographic version. Click for a full-sized image.

To the casual observer, many mites are just mysterious little red dots. Gardeners and farmers will be familiar with the spider mite family, Tetranychidae. These mites are plant-eaters, and many are major agricultural pests worldwide.

But there are so many other kinds of mites—more than you know. More than I know! More than even acarologists (mite scientists) know. They have described about 50,000 species, but they think there are probably at least a million in total.1 If you take a closer look at the little red dots running around, you can find many different kinds, occupying many different ecological niches, all unique and delightful to watch. (Red is a popular mite colour; it probably tells bigger animals that they taste bad.)

However, it is surprisingly hard to find good information about them. Pest control companies, news outlets, and even Wikipedia frequently misidentify photos of mites. So I made the infographic above to help you tell apart some of the most common small red mites you’ll encounter (that aren’t the classic spider mites). Images of text are not very accessible, so I’ve also included the write-ups below. I wanted to use illustrations rather than photos, to exaggerate important characteristics and express the mites’ “personalities”. But I’ve also included links to the BugGuide taxa pages if you want to look at comparison photos.

I’m not a mite expert by any means. So if there are any mistakes in the text or illustrations, please let me know, and I will fix them as best as I can!


Red Velvet Mite

Family Trombidiidae, common genera: Trombidium, Allothrombium [BugGuide]

Digital painting of a red velvet mite (Allothrombium)
An Allothrombium red velvet mite. Another common and closely related red velvet mite is Trombidium, which looks pretty much the same.
  • soft plush velvety warm red coat
  • blobby, slightly flattened body
  • wrinkly and bumbling and squishy like a
    Shar-Pei puppy
  • parasites of other arthropods as larvae, predators/scavengers as adults
  • harmless and beneficial
  • NOT a clover mite
  • NOT a spider mite

Sidewalk Mite

Family Erythraeidae, genus Balaustium [BugGuide]

Digital painting of a sidewalk mite (Balaustium) with a bit of pollen in its mouthparts
Sidewalk mites (Balaustium) are among the most commonly encountered members of the long-legged velvet mite family Erythraeidae.
  • very short velvety coat the colour of raspberry jam
  • pill-shaped body with long skinny legs
  • like to run around fast on concrete
  • many are parasites of other arthropods as larvae and predators as adults, some only eat pollen
  • harmless and beneficial
  • NOT a clover mite
  • NOT a spider mite

Whirligig Mite

Family Anystidae, genus Anystis [BugGuide]

Digital painting of a whirligig mite (Anystis)
Anystis whirligig mites can be found all around the world.
  • orangey-red to cherry-red body, smooth with
    long, sparse, coarse pale hairs
  • squat isosceles trapezoidal body with star-like leg arrangement, wide-set beady little eyes
  • like to run around REALLY FUCKING FAST on leaves, sometimes do lunges to stretch first
  • predators that eat garden pests and even each other
  • harmless and beneficial
  • NOT a clover mite
  • NOT a spider mite

Clover Mite

Family Tetranychidae, genus Bryobia [BugGuide]

Digital painting of a clover mite (Bryobia)
Most images labelled as clover mites (Bryobia) on the Internet are actually trombidiids, but this is what they look like.
  • bluish to reddish body with long skinny salmon-pink legs
  • wrinkled body with scattering of scale-like white hairs
  • absolutely fucking tiny
  • like if you can get a decent photo of it with your phone, it’s not a clover mite
  • eat grass and leaves and stuff
  • can cause cosmetic damage to lawns, but lawns are bad for the environment anyway, therefore they’re beneficial
  • a clover mite
  • yes, this is really what clover mites look like, everyone is wrong
  • a spider mite (but doesn’t make silk like Tetranychus and other cousins)

  1. Walter, D.E. & Proctor, H.C. (2013). Mites: Ecology, evolution & behaviour: Life at a microscale (2nd ed.) [Sci-Hub

2 thoughts on “Know Your Little Red Mites: A Guide”

  1. I love your personality descriptions, I was looking for better words other than “fast and busy” on Reddit for an ID trying to stay in the rules, but “ like to run around REALLY FUCKING FAST on leaves, sometimes do lunges to stretch first” sums it up! Thanks

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