The Oak Leaf Itch Mite is Back

By Jolyn Johnston-Myers
October 28, 2016

It’s not just leaves falling off oak trees. For the second straight year, oak leaf itch mites are causing problems for people and pets. These mites are barely visible to the naked eye but their bite results in a noticeable raised area with a centralized blister – creating an almost irresistible urge to seek relief by scratching.

This year’s itch mite problem may be the result of high survivability from the mild winter. It normally takes 10-to-16 hours for itching to start after exposure. K-State Research and Extension horticultural entomologist Raymond Cloyd says exposure to itch mites can occur in a variety of ways.

“You can get thousands of these – hundreds of thousands – dripping down off of oak trees within in a day,” Cloyd said. “And if you stand under one of these, you know, your head, your neck can get bitten or you can get bitten if the pet were there and you pet it or if you’re raking leaves or doing work under an oak tree…those are just some of the mechanisms that are involved with possibly getting these.”

The best defense against oak leaf itch mite is to avoid oak trees as much as possible and to be properly protected when working around oak trees.

“Use rubber gloves when you’re handling the leaves and dispose of them,” Cloyd advised. “Be careful touching your pet if it’s been out in the yard, especially under a pin oak tree. So you can take precautions to minimize the incidence of getting bitten by this mite.”

As for treating the oak leaf itch mite, Cloyd says no effective control has been found.

“Well, repellents don’t seem to work,” he said. “And, you know, they’ve done some work in Nebraska, I believe, applying pyrethroids like Talstar bifenthrin, but the level of efficacy has been variable. I would not make a recommendation to make a lone application since we don’t have enough hard facts…data…to say it’s going to have an impact on the mite.”

While annoying, the oak leaf itch mite bites are not usually considered dangerous. The bigger risk is secondary infection caused by scratching.

(There’s probably an oil for that.)