Floods and Mites

99 in the Shade

3:30 am – massive water leak in our house, specifically, in our coat closet (suit jackets, winter coats, some of which may be ruined, some just need drying). Turned out to be several leaks from a main air conditioning duct (looks poorly sealed). No solution yet (could be a blocked drain, or other causes), but since sleep was intermittent, our day’s labors will be too.

Itch Mite

As a bonus, D was bitten twice by the soon-to-infamous oak leaf gall mite, Pyemotes herfsi (or similar), over the weekend, leaving two large welts on her lower back, red, and itchy.

Mite Bite


“We don’t have positive identification on the type of mite that it is. We do know that it is a mite,” said Kitty Loewy, spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Scientists haven’t been able to catch one yet—they are incredibly small—but the belief that mites have invaded Illinois is based on the telltale rash that develops after the bites.

Experts say the suspected mite probably is new to the area, joining a rogues’ gallery of gnawing, invasive bugs that include the Asian tiger mosquito and the Asian ladybird beetle, all recent and probably permanent residents thanks to an increasingly interconnected world of shipping and transportation.

Still, investigators seemed to be narrowing in on an invasive variety of itch mite from Europe—the oak leaf gall mite, Pyemotes herfsi—a close relative of the straw itch mite. It feeds on midge larvae in oak trees, but happily falls onto unsuspecting people passing by when it runs out of food. It can blow in the wind and land far away. On people, it probes and chews and causes powerfully itchy reactions to a potent toxin in its saliva.

and if this is what it is like to be an entomologist, no thanks!

For the last three years, scientists in Kansas and Nebraska have studied its life cycle and behavior, said James A. Kalisch, an entomologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

It seems to emerge and thrive from late summer until early winter. The mite uses a powerful neurotoxin in its saliva to paralyze and kill soft-skinned critters as large as caterpillars. To humans, the bites aren’t toxic, but they are devilishly itchy—something Kalisch discovered after dabbing some mites into the damp crook of his arm to see what would happen.

Within 24 hours, he said, it grew itchy, then slightly painful, as if bruised. He got a mild fever and a tinge of headache. The worst of it took four days to develop and more than a week to blow over.

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