It appears the cicadas left us a parting gift: Hordes of microscopic mites flying through the air and chomping on people because why not have that too?
· Aug 2, 2021 ·

Sure, cicadas may have driven you crazy with their sound, had you sweeping up their discarded exoskeletons nearly daily, and peed on you indiscriminately, but at least they left behind microscopic bugs that will eat you alive.

I enjoyed the cicadas a great deal. They were a miracle of nature, a once-in-17-years event to be celebrated despite the inconveniences.

However, I could do without the invisible bloodthirsty vermin left in their aftermath.

They are called oak mites, and are driving people crazy.

"We wake up at night just scratching," said Cynthia Palmer of Arlington, speaking for herself and her 16-year-old daughter. Palmer said she has 12 to 15 bites all over her body and finds new ones daily. "It's like we have splotches of white paint all over us now that we're using the calamine [lotion]. The sores are red and swollen, so it's not pretty."

Across the region, residents are noticing these unfamiliar bites, mostly on their upper bodies, and are freaking out. They are rushing to doctors for help, pleading for a cure to the painful itching.

The oak mites have no regard for status or fame, either, striking the high.

As well as the low.

Those are the aftermath of my two bites. The white blisters are gone as is the constant spider-bite-like pain, which had persisted for about two-and-a-half days, leaving behind tiny scabs and some lingering redness and swelling.

John Roberts and I had it easy.

And yes, health officials were stumped a bit at first.

Adding to the mystery of the bites is the lack of familiarity among government officials. D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said at a news conference Thursday that she was not aware of these bites. The Maryland Department of Agriculture said that the insect has never had a "confirmed population" in the state and that is has not received any reports of the oak leaf itch mite.

None of this was comforting to residents who had been flooding message boards like NextDoor trying to figure out what these bites were and where they were coming from. My wife and I, both having suffered these bites, have been discussing it for days.

Kurt Larrick, the assistant director of Arlington county's Department of Human Services, is definitely leaning towards the oak mite hypothesis.

"We don't have a definitive diagnosis at this point, but from what we're seeing, the smart money might be on something called pyemotes, which is a type of oak leaf itch mite," Larrick said. "They feed on cicada eggs, so they probably have a lot of stuff to eat right about now."

Some are more certain.

Gene Kritsky, the dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, has an explanation: These microscopic mites are feeding on the billions of cicada eggs produced across the D.C. region and dropping out of trees. If you happen to be under or near these oak trees, those mites may land on you and bite.

And by "may," he means, "will."

The fact that they pretty much fly through the air is not comforting, either.

The wind can blow these microscopic mites onto you, Cloyd said, making insect repellent ineffective.

While oak mites may be unfamiliar to resident of metropolitan DC, they are nothing new to residents elsewhere.

Oak mites

These mites usually feed on small flies that live on oak leaves, but they can drop from trees and bite humans. This happens most often in late summer. Oak tree leaves with crusted brown edges can indicate oak mites. If you see these leaves, avoid sitting or working under these trees.

We've probably had them all along, just not, you know, trillions of them.

Which reminds me, have I mentioned the rats? I feel like I should have mentioned the rats.

I can attest to this being a real issue.

Oh, and snakes, those too. I haven't seen those personally yet, but sure, let's have more snakes.

On the plus side, no one has suggested dipping the oak mites in batter for a quick lunch.

Not that I know of, anyway.

So, yeah, I'm thinking of maybe Airbnb-ing my house for the rest of the summer. Convenient to Metro, easy access to world-class museums, and third-world levels of vermin.

Speaking of which, what do you think will be the next crittertastrophe?

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