Microscopic Face Mites

I am fascinated with the microscopic world and all that goes on that is not visible to the human eye. If you are prone to become squeamish, read no further. This is a good one.

(D. folliculorum) Drawing credit – Wellcome Trust

One of those microscopic worlds is on our faces. That includes two species of microscopic face mites. These creatures are teeny-tiny arachnids living face first in our pores and hair follicles, sometimes several in a single pore. They have evolved alongside humans for so long, they now have pore-shaped bodies and eight impossibly small legs. Not that they need the legs – they don’t move much. Even if they did, apparently we wouldn’t feel it. So they say.

Of course there are scientists out there researching these mites. To date we don’t know a lot about them, other than the fact they their entire life cycle is completed on a human body. That means they do everything on our faces. They dine on whatever happens to be in our pores (dead skin? Oils?). They reproduce on our skin. And, of course, they defecate. For while after the presence of the mites was known to science, the thought was that these mites lacked an anus and that waste simply accumulated in their bodies until they died. However, science being such that it is, the research continued and revealed that these mites do, indeed, have a teeny tiny anus.

Don’t freak out. While this information certainly makes you think (and want to wash your face), the mites are not harmful. They have evolved over a very, very long time in a symbiotic relationship humans. While the research is still ongoing, scientists believe the mites help us by eating dead skin and harmful bacteria, and perhaps producing antimicrobial compounds. Those face mites are just two of the many inhabitants of the human ecosystem!

Red-Winged Blackbirds

Not long ago I was out on a nearby trail and passed by a large bush down in a gulley – and the bush was singing. I couldn’t even see the birds among the branches, though it sounded like there were dozens. The sound stopped me in my tracks.

Photo Credit – Mr.TinMD

These birds are almost always found in flocks like the one I heard. In the summer the flock size is smaller, but in the winter flocks can number into the thousands. They like wetland areas but are also found on grasslands, in thickets, and in forests, but always close to water.

What I really wish I could see is one of their nests – they are masterful. The females (who are not black and look like finches) weave a deep, cup-like nest between several close-together, vertical plant stems such as cattails. She does this by winding plant material around the stems, around and over so it’s well-anchored to the stems. Then she adds wet leaves, decaying wood, and plasters the inside with mud. The final touch is lining the inside with soft grass. The completed nest is up to 7 inches wide, and 3-7 inches deep.

Back in the 1930s a naturalist deconstructed one of these nests. It was woven with 34 strips of bark from a willow tree and the leaves of 142 cattails, some of which were two feet long. Think about that – a bird with no hands wove that! On my next walk I’m not going to look for the birds, I’m going to look for their nests!

Bug B&B

I am now the proud owner of a B&B for bugs. Why would I want to do that, you ask? Good question! Over the past months I’ve taken a special interest in bugs and the fact that they run the world – like this massive yet unseen factory that keeps Earth’s systems functioning. I’ve also learned more than I wanted to know about insect decline.

So I built a B&B. The point behind a backyard bug B&B is to provide shelter for the bugs and to support biodiversity in an increasingly manicured and paved world. Mind you, I’m fairly certain that my overgrown, unmanicured yard is a natural B&B, but building one was part experiment, part curiosity, part creative outlet, and part foundation for a book I have brewing. And it was kind of fun.

These built structures don’t have to be large. They simply need a variety of hidey holes and materials to attract different bugs. Solitary bees and wasps, for example, like logs with drilled holes, reeds, and bamboo. Centipedes, spiders, and beetles seek out lose bark and dead, decaying wood. Attract ladybugs with pinecones, straw, sticks, and dry leaves.

A bug hotel needs a roof too, apparently, which I find slightly ironic. They also should be placed in a sunny spot, out of the wind, and near flowering plants if possible. The best time to build a bug B&B is in late summer or early fall since that’s when many bugs are laying eggs and/or seeking shelter. While I’m a few months behind, the B&B is complete and I’m curious to see who will book a room. Let the experiment begin!