Introduction to Spider Mites

Spider mites are not insects, but very small arachnids. They are also called red spiders, although they are actually mites. They have eight legs and a one-part body, and are related to spiders, daddy long legs, and ticks. They are most often encountered as parasites on both indoor and outdoor plants, shade trees, and shrubs, but they can also infest animals and stored food products. Besides being a nuisance, spider mites can cause damage to leaves, and some species can transmit disease.

Recognizing Spider Mites

Spider mites appear to be microscopic red or green dots. They create fine webs in plant joints as well as on the underside of leaves. Spider mites use a pair of structures called stylets to rupture leaf cells in order to suck out the sap. The damage they cause results in curling leaves, yellow spots or other discolored patches, and buds that fail to open. If the plant is heavily infested, the foliage may become bleached or bronzed in appearance, the plant may thin, and could eventually die. If you shake the plant’s stem or leaves over a sheet of paper, and little dots about the size of a period fall off, the plant has spider mites. Ivies are said to be prone to spider mites, with English Ivy being the most common type sold as well as the most vulnerable.

Ridding Your Home of Spider Mites

Once you identify spider mites in your home you need to decide what form of treatment to use. One organic solution is to use ladybugs or lady beetles which naturally prey on spider mites. This is a long term approach that is most satisfactory out of doors. A second approach is to take infested plants outside, remove severely damaged leaves, and wipe the others with a wet rag or alternatively, spray them off. This will help to remove both adult mites and eggs.

In the particular case of spider mites, pesticides should almost always be avoided, because they kill both ladybugs and other natural predators of spider mites, thus, ironically, allowing the spider mite population to increase. So, the next step is often an insecticidal soap and then, as a last resort, a miticide.

Prevention includes sterilizing plant pots before reusing them, to prevent spreading an infestation. This is done by soaking in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water for half an hour. Some recommend soaking in a one to one water and bleach solution, and in either case, but particularly the latter, care should be taken to avoid splashing the bleach solution or letting it contact your skin. The pot should be rinsed in clean water afterwards to fully remove the bleach.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Related Home Institute Articles

  • Introduction to Pesticides
  • Introduction to Ants
  • Introduction to Silverfish
  • Introduction to Fruit Flies
  • Introduction to Dust Mites
  • Getting Rid of Gnats
  • Introduction to Ticks
  • Introduction to Wasps
  • Introduction to Spiders
  • Introduction to Moths