Get ready, KC: Experts say itchy oak mites will invade once again this summer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Do you remember the first time you were bitten by an oak mite and thought, "What was that?"

FOX4 wondered why it seems these pesky oak mites seem to have gotten worse in recent years, and you won't like what we found out.

"They've kind of just burst onto the scene for us, very, very problematic for us," said Lee Likins, a research instructor for the UMKC School of Biological Sciences. "I know I've been bitten by them before, and they are no fun."

If you're wondering why you haven't heard much about oak mites, it's because they actually haven't been here in North America until fairly recently.

"We are considered ground zero for the invasion of this particular mite, which is known from Australia and Europe," Likins said.

It was only back in 2004 that we saw the first big outbreak of oak mites in Pittsburg, Kansas, and also here in Kansas City. Similar reports from the mid-'90s have also been investigated.

The oak mite is invisible to the human eye and so microscopic that the wind can carry them from tree to tree. They have already started to show up in surrounding states.

So how did the oak mite get here? Typically, experts trace an invasive species to the country's coastal areas. So how the oak mite made it to Kansas City -- in the middle of the United States -- is still somewhat of a mystery to scientists trying to learn more about them.

What we do know about the oak mite is that people are not their meal of choice, despite how many people get bitten by them.

"They itch, and they last a long time," said Mike Fry, a victim to oak mite bites. "They're terrible. I hate them."

Oak mites feed directly on the larvae of oak leaves, pin oaks in particular. But for those who work in the garden or have oak trees nearby, your chances of coming into contact with them are high.

What makes these might mites such a nuisance is that their bite can be downright painful.

"In the situation where they bite us, probably accidentally or simply because of contact, the neurotoxin gets into us, and the neurotoxin has a dermatological reaction that leads to the blistering and the itch," Likins said.

The UMKC instructor said the bite of an oak mite is similar to what poison ivy does to us, so whatever you use to treat a poison ivy rash would be the most effective way to get some relief.

And if you were hoping this winter's deep cold spell would kill of this year's oak mites and their eggs, think again. Likins said oak mites don't lay eggs.

And to make matters worse: "Each female is already pregnant over winter," Likins said. "In spring, when they re-emerge, they birth, each female, approximately 250 already adult individuals."

That's a whopping 250 adults that immediately begin to mate when they're born. Of the 250, only about a dozen of those are born male, which leaves more than 230 new adult females to then develop a brood of their own -- and the cycle can keep on repeating.

Unfortunately, insecticides don't work on oak mites. The best way to keep from getting bitten, aside from avoidance, is to wash your clothes and shower immediately after being outdoors.

Good luck in this summer's oak mite invasion, Kansas City!