What Are Soil Mites – Friend or Foe?

When you walk in a wooded setting, you’ll see lots of organic matter on the ground.

Leaves, pine needles, mushrooms, decaying branches, and logs are everywhere.

man holding soil in his handPin

Soil mites are also everywhere, but unless you lie down on the ground with a magnifying glass, you will not notice them along with the root aphids.

Meanwhile, root aphids feed on the live parts of your plant, such as the roots, stem, and leaves. Even then, they are so tiny. Seeing them is pretty challenging.

What are these little critters, and what should you do about them if you somehow see them in your garden, flower pots, or containers?

In this article, we explain what soil mites are and what, if anything, you should do about them. Read on to learn more.

What Are Soil Mites?

Soil mites are the most abundantly found organisms in the soil. They live both indoors and outdoors but prefer compost piles or areas of very rich soil with plenty of nutrients to feed on.

Very simply, dirt mites are beneficial arthropods (related to spiders and ticks) performing the very important task of helping break down organic matter such as leaf litter, insects, fungus, algae, and other naturally occurring substances in the soil.

The soil starts to come to life, and dozens or even several hundred little creepy crawly bugs start to vacate the soil as the water moves through the pot. 

Close-up of a tick on textured surface.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @insectarium.peru

When the plant next needs water, which could be in a couple of days, pour the dilution into the plant’s compost to administer the pesticide. 

They love the compost pile; you might find these tiny white bugs in soil in outdoor potted plants and occasionally in your houseplants’ plants.  

Indoor gardeners often remove the infestation purely on a visible aspect, as seeing small white or brown critters rambling across the soil isn’t a pretty sight. 

You can bring them in if you mix your own potting soil and use your compost as an ingredient or use outdoor tools on your indoor plants. 

Some are also very tiny predatory arthropods that eat extremely tiny (even microscopic) harmful soil-dwelling fauna, such as bacteria and nematodes.

There are about twenty thousand different identified and most common types of soil mites, and it is suspected about 80,000 different types exist.

How Do You Know What Kind Of Soil Mites You Have?

The most common are oribatid mites, which reproduce very slowly and are surprisingly long-lived.

The average life of an oribatid mite is three or four years, but in ideal circumstances, each individual can live as many as seven years.

Close-up of translucent insect eggs.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @the_kr0nic

These tiny creatures are also called turtle mites or beetle mites because of their hard, rounded exoskeletons or shells.

Beetle mites are highly adapted, and many different species within their group can adjust to dry and hot conditions, while others can be found in rainforests. They live their lives as scavengers feeding off dead plants and other decaying matter.

You may also hear them referred to as moss mites because they are often found in moss or lichen.

These mites (and most mites in the soil) are so very small there may be as many as five hundred of them contained in a little under 4 ounces of soil.

Mites are not aggressive and do not bite or attack people or animals. They are known to carry some potentially harmful pathogens and parasites, such as tapeworms. Others are scavengers and eat dead insects and whatever they can find.  

How Can You Identify Mites In Soil?

Among the dirt mites, you may find in healthy soil, some of the most common (aside from oribatid) are:

  • Mesostigmata
  • Prostigmata
  • Astigmata
  • Gas amid
Close-up of two mites on a surface.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @bfmacro

Identifying the different types of soil mites is very challenging since they are so very small.

If you’re able to see them at all, you’ll notice extraordinarily tiny dots moving around in the soil.

To tell one from another, you need a microscope.

You might be able to take a guess at what type of dirt mites are likely to be most abundant by considering the location.

If you are in a location where the soil is very high in nitrogen, such as a farm, soil mites are likely to be of the Astigmata variety.

If you are in an area where harmful nematodes are known to exist, there are likely to be Gasamid or Mesostigmata soil mites, which are predatory.

The problem is you will also see other types, such as Oribatid and Prostigmata, which are generalized feeders consuming both negative flora and fauna.

Do Soil Mites Cause Any Damage? Should You Get Rid Of Them?

Are soil mites bad?

The most important takeaway regarding dirt mites is that they do not cause any damage. Don’t get rid of them.

As the first method will take several weeks to eradicate, you may want to consider spending some money on ‘hydrogen peroxide.’ 

They are extremely and importantly beneficial to the soil in the decomposition process, the environment, and all living things.

Insect eggs on soil, macro image.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @sungrownliving

These mites in the soil break down animal and plant residue and consume bacteria and fungi in the soil. Soil lice can transmit germs to humans and carry the eggs of a tape-worm.  

These beneficial soil mites also eat harmful soil-dwelling creatures.

They process all of these negative elements into beneficial fecal pellets.

Their activities and this positive addition to the soil help form humus and improve the structure and fertility of the soil.

When they die naturally, they decompose and further benefit the soil.

Should You Ever Get Rid of Dirt Mites?

The only way these tiny arthropods could ever be considered a pest to get rid of would be if their numbers became so great you could easily see them crawling over the soil in an indoor container.

Even then, they wouldn’t do any harm.

With their very slow rate of reproduction and development, this would be a very unlikely scenario.

Still, if it were to happen, your best course of action would be to repot the plant in question. Then dispose of the mite-rich potting soil by adding it to your compost heap along with other decaying organic matter.

Insect eggs on soil, close-up, detailed, nature-themed.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @cover_crop_king

Or spread it over your garden or under some bushes outdoors so the soil mites could have some space to spread out.

If you have a compost bin, you can put the old soil in there, as the mites will boost the natural composting process.

Of course, the use of potting soil drenches or diatomaceous earth (DE) intended to kill harmful soil dwellers like fungus gnats will also kill spider mites in the soil.

On the contrary, they feed on organic matter in the soil, aiding in soil decomposition and aeration, which is beneficial for plant growth! 

Organic, especially cinnamon mixture containing ingredients such as garlic and cinnamon, will harm or kill dirt mites, as will dish soap and Neem oil (drench) concoctions and insecticides containing pyrethrins in a spray bottle.

For this reason, these sorts of products are to be avoided if you want to develop and maintain healthy soil.

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