Micscape Article: The Hunt for Dustmites

Text: Maurice Smith, Images


They're in your bed! They're in your carpets! They're everywhere! So claim the many books and references on dustmites. But are they?

Here at Micscape we thought we would take a look for ourselves. First of all we took a look at what some of the best books say about these strange inhabitants:-

     "Up to two million dustmites inhabit the average double bed..."

Mmm! Do they? I marched into the bedroom, yanked back the covers, plugged in my super120x Video Camera, high power lights, and scanned the bed. One hour later all I had for my trouble was loads of video full of fluff! Maybe, I'm getting something wrong. Back to the books:-

     "... many experience their whole lives under a single mattress stud... "

Ah! That's what I 'm doing wrong. Back to the bed. Several missing studs later - no dustmites!

The Vacuum Cleaner
I remembered reading in a newspaper how the average hoover was full of dustmites, picked up from the carpet. I emptied our one on some newspaper and carefully trawled through wadges of dirt, dust, and fibres. Again nothing! What could I do? I had dedicated the afternoon to getting some pictures to show you of these awesome beasts and hours into a session I had nothing to show. Then I had an idea: phone an expert!

Surely someone is  going to know where the hell they are in my house.

My expert friend confirmed my worst fears: "Yup", he said. "I had the same problem. In the end I asked a few relatives to send me the contents of their vacuum cleaners". Now here is a man after my own heart, I thought!

"But did you find any?", I begged him.

"Sure... after about the third or fourth bag. I'll send you some if you like. I started a few cultures which seem to be doing nicely."

And send them he did.

I never realized, until I looked for myself, how really small these creatures are. The images here were the first ones I took at 120x magnification. I still haven't had the time to isolate one for proper study under the 'scope' but I have at least kept the culture going. These little creatures really shift. I had been under the impression they just lumbered around blindly, but they are fast, know what they want - and getting out of the light seems to be way up on their list of priorities!

The Asthma Connection?
Dustmites are relatives of spiders. They have recently been blamed for causing asthma attacks through allergic reaction the build-up of dust left over from their rotted carcasses. I have my doubts about this since my wife suffers from asthma attacks yet todate, I have still not found any dustmites in my house. Perhaps, if you are an amateur microscopist, you can have a look at debris in your hoover and see if you find any. I would be interested to hear how many of you actually find any. If you have a microscope and the photographic or video equipment required, why not send us an image? We will publish some of the best received for all to see in future issues. And don't forget to look under the mattress!

It is reputed that you get most dustmites where people are sexually active in bed. Apparently, where couples thrash around energetically in bed, they lose the most dead skin cells. These fall as a dust storm onto the sheets and through the fibres onto the mattress beneath, providing a plentiful supply of food to the waiting armies of dustmites. So, if you send us any images, maybe you want to hold back on us publishing your name and address!

A friend of mine, Larry Legg, and I found a load of them accidently a while after this article was written, so I amended it today July 1999 so you could see a better example of one taken with an optical microscope. Here it is:-  

And we ended up writing several more articles on dustmites with better images. Try these:- Valentines Day Lice Wars

I wish you happy hunting, Maurice Smith (Mic-UK - updated July 4th 1999)



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