Scientists Discover Mite Species Living, Eating, Sleeping And Fornicating On Human Faces
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
There are mites crawling all over your face right now, and it doesn’t matter what you do or how hard you wash or how much soap you use, you can’t get rid of them – and you can thank North Carolina State University graduate student Megan S. Thoemmes and her colleagues for that unsettling bit of knowledge.
Thoemmes, who is currently studying in the NC State Department of Biological Sciences and the W.M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology, is co-author of a study appearing in the latest edition of the journal PLOS ONE which describes Demodex mites, a group of hair follicle and sebaceous gland-dwelling species that eat, sleep and even fornicate on human faces.
Ed Yong of National Geographic puts the research into perspective: “Think of all the adults you know. Think of your parents and grandparents. Think of the teachers you had at school, your doctors and dentists… and the actors you see on TV. All of these people probably have little mites crawling, eating, sleeping, and having sex on their faces.”
Yong notes that there are over 48,000 different species of mites in the world, and most of them resemble “lozenges on spindly legs.” The two types of Demodex mites that live on people’s faces, however, look more like “wall plugs – long cones with stubby legs at one end. They don’t look like much, and most of us have never looked at one at all. But these weird creatures are almost certainly the animals we spend the most time with.”
Demodex mites, NC State adjunct assistant professor of entomology Michelle Trautwein explained in a statement Wednesday, are microscopic arachnids (relatives of ticks and spiders) that live in the pores of mammal skin. In humans, they have been found to reside in the general vicinity of the nose, but they have also been found in all mammal species except for the platypus and its egg-laying kin.
According to Medical Daily’s Samantha Olson, one of the two species, Demodex brevis, is related to the mites known to cause mange in dogs. While scientists have known about these miniature arachnids, which consume the oil secreted by our skin, for more than a century, this marks the first-ever in-depth scientific analysis of the mites, she added.
Thoemmes, fellow NC State students Robert R. Dunn and Daniel J. Fergus, and experts from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco recruited men and women at a science event in Raleigh, North Carolina and scraped the sides of their noses, Olson added. They found DNA belonging to the Dermodex mites on the skin of every single individual who was over the age of 18.
“The first time I found one on my face I didn’t sleep for four nights,” Thoemmes told NPR. “They’re actually pretty cute. With their eight little legs, they look like they’re almost swimming through the oil. It’s like having friends with you all the time. Realizing that everyone has them and they’re likely not causing any problems, it’s pretty reassuring.”
The researchers explained to Medical Daily that they are uncertain how the mites are spread, but one theory suggests that since children are less likely to have them, they are originally passed from mother to infant during breastfeeding. Given that they were found on 100 percent of adults, however, the study authors said that they plan to delve deeper into the mites’ background, especially to see if there are any health concerns associated with them.
“Considering how common these creatures are, there’s still so much we don’t know about them. We don’t know where our two face-mite species came from, or what their closest relatives are. We also don’t know how many other face-mites exist,” Yong said.
Given that each Demodex species tends to stick to one mammal host, that there are over 5,000 species of mammals, and that many have more than one type of mite, he added that this means that there “could potentially be 10,000 species of Demodex left to discover.”