Characteristics, Habits, and Geography
The name “spider mite” comes from this species’ habit of creating webs very similar to those created by spiders. Spider mites are also arachnids, albeit tiny ones, reaching only about 1 millimeter in length. Their oval bodies have eight legs, and range in color from red and brown to yellow and green, depending upon the species and time of year. Most spider mites change color with the seasons, and toward winter tend to be more orange or red.
Spider mites prefer hot, dry climates, and can most commonly be found on the undersides of the leaves of plants. It is here that they weave their webs, which protect both the spider mites and their eggs from potential predators and from other environmental dangers. Spider mites feed on the fluid from plant cells. They gain access to the fluid by injecting their needle-like mouths into the leaves of the plants, and then sucking out the fluid in the cells. In the process of feeding, they can damage trees, shrubs, vegetable crops, and flowers.
Spider mites are prolific breeders, and can attain maturity within the space of a single week, so infestations often go unnoticed until they are in full progress. Homeowners who suspect that their yards may be infested should carefully examine the undersides of leaves, looking for mites, mite webs, or mite eggs. Spider mite eggs are surprisingly large compared to the size of the mother, and look like diminutive pearls. Because both mites and their eggs are so small, they can most easily be spotted through the use of a lens.
Plants that have been damaged often have leaves that appear spotted and discolored. Additionally, their leaves may begin to fall off prematurely.
Insecticides often fail to curb spider mite infestations, because the mites breed so frequently and new generations will adapt to insecticides that may have killed their parents. However, the introduction of predatory mite species into the area is often sufficient to control spider mites. Because spider mites prefer dry areas, plants that are frequently watered are also less likely to suffer damage. Finally, homeowners with severe infestations may choose to call in a licensed exterminator.