Oak Leaf Itch Mite

June 27, 2017

The oak leaf itch mite, which first made its appearance in the Kansas City area in 2014, has since commanded the attention of anyone engaging outdoors in gardening, sports, or other leisurely activities. This mite infests oak trees, primarily pin oaks, but also red and black oaks, while searching for and feeding on larval midges (the true pest of the tree) which create galls on the leaves.

an oak leaf itch mite under a microscope in kansas city

It is unknown where they hide over winter, but late spring and early summer is when they begin making their appearance known through their incidental biting. Their complete life cycle is quite short – 7 days from egg to adult – and results in numbers estimated to be well over 300,000 per tree.

The problem unfolds as they are blown or fall from the trees on to you, lawns, gardens, and structures where, due to their extremely small size (0.2mm or 1/125"), they readily enter your property through screens. Unlike chiggers, which attack from the ground - affecting areas of tight clothing such as belts, underwear, and socks - the oak mite affects areas from above where clothing is loose, such as your neck, shoulders, chest, and back. Sitting or lying on lawns beneath the trees will also cause an attack.

Be aware of pest control operators going door-to-door with claims that they have the cure for this problem. At this time, there is no safe, sure-fire method for controlling these mites and their prey. Spraying lawns and tree trunks will help reduce, but not eliminate, the problem. Efforts may be made to spray the tree, but when dealing with a 75-80 foot tall tree, spraying often creates a greater hazard!

One solution may be to apply a soil drench around the trees to eliminate the gall-making midge, which is the root cause of the problem. This would best be applied at bud break or shortly thereafter to be effective. Obviously, it is too late this year for such an approach to be effective, but our entomologist is exploring this option for future use. Augustine Exterminators can treat trees (to a safe height), lawns, and foliage around your property with a backpack mister, which is very effective in eliminating mosquitoes, chiggers, and fleas; however, as previously mentioned, the effectiveness of this type of service on the oak leaf itch mite will be limited.

In the meantime, protect yourself by wearing hats and long-sleeved shirts treated with insect repellents. While there are many repellent products on the market, not all will deliver the desired relief. Consumers Reports lists several that produce excellent results. They are: 1. Sawyer Picaridin (contains 20% picaridin}; 2. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus (contains 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus); 3. Natrapel 8 Hour (contains 20% picaridin); 4. Off Deep Woods VIII (contains 25% DEET).

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