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What are Red Spider Mites?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

Red spider mites are not insects, but are instead closely related to spiders. They are commonly seen on both houseplants and outdoor plants, and an infestation can eventually kill plants. Because of their small size and prolific breeding, they can be difficult to get rid of.

Barely visible to the naked eye, adult red spider mites are approximately 1/50 of an inch (0.4 mm) in length. Like spiders, they have no antennae and four pairs of legs, and are capable of spinning silk webs. Females are larger than males.

Ladybugs eat red spider mites.
Ladybugs eat red spider mites.

Instead of directly consuming the leaves or stems of plants as most other insects do, red spider mites have specialized mouth parts that pierce the plant cells and allow them to feed on the contents of the cells. This causes tiny yellow or brown spots to appear on the plant, signs of a feeding practice that will eventually cause the leaves to wilt and can lead to the death of the plant if the mites are not eliminated. Even if the plants are not killed, growth is frequently stunted as the host tries to compensate for the cell tissues the mites feed on.

There are two varieties of red spider mite, but they both go through the same basic life process as black spider mites. Females lay eggs on the host plant, which then hatch into six-legged larvae. When these larvae molt, they gain their other two legs. Two molting processes later, the red spider mites mature into adults. This process usually takes several weeks from start to finish.

The southern red spider mite is found on many plants, but the European red mite usually prefers apple trees. The southern red mite can easily be brought into the home on new houseplants, which it often infests. There are many more spider mites, but only the European and the southern are completely red.

Red spider mites can be difficult to eliminate, but need to be looked after quickly before the mites can spread to other plants. Washing plants and removing any webs can get rid of a red mite population, but this may need to be done repeatedly until there are no more signs of adult mites. Red spider mites thrive in dry conditions, and misting the leaves of other plants in the area can help discourage the spread of the pests. For outside infestations, releasing insects like ladybugs and lacewings to feed on the mites can be an effective method of control. Pesticides that will kill these natural predators should not be used because these good insects are such an effective method of controlling red spider mites.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are red spider mites?

Red spider mites, specifically the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae), are tiny arachnids, not insects, that feed on plant fluids. They are notorious for causing damage to a wide variety of indoor and outdoor plants by piercing plant cells and sucking out their contents, which can lead to the yellowing or browning of leaves and even plant death if left unchecked.

How can I identify a red spider mite infestation on my plants?

Look for fine silk webbing on the undersides of leaves or between plant stems, which is a telltale sign of their presence. Infested leaves may also exhibit yellow or white speckles, and in severe cases, leaves may turn completely yellow, dry out, and fall off. A magnifying glass can help to spot these tiny pests, which are less than 1mm in size.

Are red spider mites harmful to humans or pets?

Red spider mites are not harmful to humans or pets. They are plant pests and do not bite or cause health issues for animals or people. However, they can be extremely detrimental to the health of plants, which can indirectly affect humans if the plants are of economic or aesthetic importance.

What conditions favor red spider mite infestations?

Red spider mites thrive in hot, dry conditions. They are often more prevalent during the warmer months and can rapidly reproduce in these environments. Overuse of chemical pesticides can also contribute to infestations by eliminating natural predators that would otherwise keep mite populations in check.

How can I naturally control red spider mite populations?

Natural control methods include introducing predatory insects like ladybugs or lacewings, which feed on spider mites. Regularly spraying plants with water can also help dislodge mites and disrupt their webbing. Ensuring plants are well-watered and not stressed can reduce susceptibility to infestations. In some cases, organic miticides based on plant oils or soaps can be effective.

Can red spider mites spread from plant to plant?

Yes, red spider mites can easily spread from one plant to another. They can crawl between closely spaced plants, be carried by the wind on their fine webbing, or be transported inadvertently by humans and animals. Isolating infested plants and treating them promptly can help prevent the spread to other plants.

Discussion Comments


@raynbow- You should try getting several praying mantises to put in your garden. These large insects eat spider mites, aphids, and other types of pests which helps protect your plants. They are also very unique to watch, and usually stay within the area that you place them.

Another benefit of having several praying mantises in your garden in that they are very likely to reproduce. The following year, you may have many of these large creatures in your garden, which will provide extra protection against garden pests.


Does anyone have any tips about another type of insect that eats and controls spider mites? I'm not particularly found of lacewings or ladybugs, but I want to control spider mites in my garden naturally.

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    • Ladybugs eat red spider mites.
      Ladybugs eat red spider mites.