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, and 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

Even then, they are so tiny, seeing them is quite 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?

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

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

There are about twenty thousand different identified types of soil mites, and it is suspected about eighty thousand 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.

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

You may also hear them referred to 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.

How Can You Identify Mites In Soil?

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

  • Mesostigmata
  • Prostigmata
  • Astigmata
  • Gasamid

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 just 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 soil 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?

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

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

These mites in the soil break down animal and plant residue and consume bacteria and fungi in the soil. 

They 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 Soil 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 simply repot the plant in question and dispose of the mite-rich potting soil by adding it to your compost heap along with other decaying organic matter or spreading it over your garden or under some bushes outdoors so the soil mites could have some space to spread out.

Of course, the use of potting soil drenches intended to kill harmful soil dwellers will also kill mites in the soil. 

Organic mixtures containing ingredients such as garlic and cinnamon will harm or kill soil mites, as will dish soap and Neem oil (drench) concoctions and insecticides containing pyrethrins. 

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

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