About Meet Your Mites

So by now, if you’ve followed Your Wild Life for even just a minute, you’ve come to understand (and dare we say appreciate?) the arthropods living in and around your home and neighborhood.

But did you know that you quite likely have tiny arthropods, called Demodex mites, living ON YOUR FACE (and nearly everywhere else you have hair follicles)?

These microscopic parasites (too small to feel or be seen with the naked eye!) spend their days hiding in our hair follicles, sucking on sebum (the oily secretions produced by the sebaceous glands) and eating the cells lining the hair follicles. At night, under the cover of darkness, adult mites emerge, crawl around, and … mate on your face! **

Now before you cringe in horror, or worse yet, rush off to exfoliate and scrub your face raw, you should know that Demodex are found on nearly every, or perhaps even every, adult. Studies of cadavers tend to find them on everyone, such that for adults the question “mite” be not whether you have mites, but how many or which kind you have. Demodex mites are common across mammals. In fact, 65 species have been described living on mammals including cats, dogs, horses, swine and cattle. We suspect there are many more species of these mites, perhaps hundreds of them.

On humans, there have been two species described (so far): Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis. And we have a hunch that there might be more. It may be that no one has looked deeply enough into the genetics of our little friends to find many differences among mites based on their DNA.

So with your help we aim to study the evolution and diversification of human-associated Demodex mites over time and space. Specifically, we want to map the mites’ “family tree” and see how closely that tracks our own human family tree.

Will you let us peer into your pores? We’d like to scrape some of the sebum (and hopefully the mites there-in) from the pores of your face. Think of it like getting a little facial for citizen-science.

To participate in this project, you’ll have to visit us in-person during one of our special face sampling events in the Raleigh-Durham area. Sign up here and we’ll be sure to notify you of upcoming events. We’re also looking for ideas of how to study the mites while they are on people’s heads or even how to have citizens sample or study their mites in the privacy of their homes.