I don't hate Spider Mites. I dislike Spider Mites no more or less than I dislike, um, moon dust or the dreams of dormice. However, I appreciate that all things have a place, and your plants are not the place for Spider Mites. Spider Mites belong in the Great Outdoors, out in the Wild, where the wind blows free and the deer and the antelope roam; but not in the greenhouse.
Classically, humans have fought spider mite infestations with chemical warfare. I tried it. And I failed. For week after week I would go through the cycle of spraying and cleaning and spraying and treating the soil and spraying and so on. For a really long time. It was expensive, time consuming, smelly, briefly effective and worst of all, not entirely healthy for my family and my family’s animals. It had to change. I had to get rid of the Spider Mites or our plants woulddie; I couldn’t continue to poison our immediate environment at great expense with no lasting resolution. I was beginning to hate Spider Mites (hate is not a healthy emotion and never helps one out of a bad situation). I knew I had to do something else, something different, something smarter... At least smarter than the Spider Mites.
I succeeded. In a big way. Hit it outta the park the first time at bat. I knew I had succeeded because the results were so incredibly obvious in such a small amount of time. I isolated my plants in a clean room (the bathroom is great for this, Spider Mites don’t like smooth surfaces). After three days of using my traps, while I meticulously cleaned my growing space, the job was done and visibly so. I could see the wave of Spider Mites as they progressed along the traps’ surfaces. As the Spider Mite forces advanced across the trap’s surfaces all of the individual Spider Mites in the vanguard became mired in the trap while their replacements marched over the already-stuck compatriots and onto the sticky trap surface. Every morning I would get up to see the advance of the Spider Mite wave across the traps and to replace any traps that were full. It really was exciting. And empowering. Using no toxic chemies, I had just outwitted 349 million years of evolution (give or take) by being smarter than a Spider Mite. Not bad for a primate, given how short our history is in comparison to that of the Spider Mite family.
That’s pretty much how it happened. Thanks for reading, and thanks for buying Red Band Spider Mite Traps!
Soon after beginning cultivation, my small indoor garden was attacked by Spider Mites, Tetranychus urticae. This is a well known crop pest which attacks thousands of different crops including, but not limited to peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, corn and strawberries, raspberries and many nut trees. Spider Mites are an ancient tribe of voracious, adaptable, prolific, itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny little vampiric devil pests that suck the lifeblood out of a plant’s leaves and above-ground growth zones (Stem and Inflorescence Apical Meristematic zones) causing the plant’s death and a subsequent loss of crop output. I was screwed. What followed was a three month battle which I never completely won.
It was like the European Front in 1919. I would beat the Spider Mites down with one type of weapon, then they would return two weeks later, so I would try something else. Three weeks later the Spider Mites returned, so I got another weapon, down and back they retreated and returned from where I could not guess. To be honest, I knew where they were. The Spider Mites were in the dirt of the flower pots, in my clothes, there were a few undisturbed eggs on a stalk, in the carpet, on my cat, on drapes and walls and everywhere in the house basically. I tried every recommended indoor chemical weapon including application of pyrethrin, neem and insecticidal soap, by themselves and in combination with each other, along with being incredibly clean in my horticultural habits. Nonetheless, three weeks later they would come back as strong as ever, even if I maintained the insecticide application for the entire three weeks. I did not want to “take the next step” and start seeding my home with predator insects - the only other recognized arrow in the arsenal against Spider Mites at the time and currently as well. I was really starting to despise the Spider Mites and was considering whether my garden was worth the trouble.
I quickly reasoned out chemicals and predators because chemicals are only a somewhat effective control, even in professional circles, and predators always seek to achieve a population balance with their prey which enables the predator to continue having a food source (a theory called the "balance of nature"). What these two statements meant to me were I will always have a Mite problem because chemicals eventually fail in efficacy and predators always leave survivors for lunch tomorrow; if I continue with the accepted means of Spider Mite control, I will always have Spider Mites to control. I didn’t want to control the Mites, I wanted to eradicate them from my home without killing all of the home’s inhabitants.
I decided to think about the problem in my own way, to see if something had been overlooked. All the work I had seen on the subject discussed active means of pest control; by “active means” I mean modes of control which actively seek out the pest, either by spray application where the horticulturalist actively seeks to apply a poison to the animal and its food source OR where the predator (again, introduced into the indoor environment by the horticulturalist) actively seeks out the Spider Mites as prey. What if I could produce a thing which the Spider Mites would seek out? A passive means of trapping the Spider Mites and the eggs that they produce while in the trap. I began to think about where Spider Mites congregate, what their habits are, what they want for their kids, how they protect themselves, what parts of the plant are most desirable, how they distribute themselves on a single plant and how they move from one host to another. Among other things. That is a small list. It is an effective list when one notes that what is being considered are issues of Animal Behavior, not biochemistry and not a predator/prey relationship. Here are some of the things I learned through research about Spider Mites and which contribute to making them the difficult little dudes that they are.
Spider Mites are members of the Tetranychidae family - This extremely diverse and globally ubiquitous family dates back to the Devonian Period which was over 359 million years ago. This means that Spider Mites are members of an ancient and successful family which has certainly had to survive things far more toxic than pyrethrin and neem oil.
Spider Mites are members of the Arachnida class - Spider Mites, like their spider cousins, extrude webbing for different uses. As a means of locomotion Spider Mites will extrude webbing which will be picked up by the wind and carry the Spider Mite to a new host. As a means of defense, Spider Mites will create tented colonies on Stem Apical and Inflorescence Meristematic zones where eggs are stored and hatch in vast numbers.
Spider Mites are voracious - I could tell that just by looking at them and the damage they created. If left to themselves they would have killed the entire crop within two weeks. The time from “what are these little yellow spots on the leaves” to “ohmigawd, is that webbing on the top of my plant” was less than 5 days.
Spider Mites are adaptable - After three months I knew that they were adaptable because even broad spectrum chemicals invariably failed to eradicate the Mites and also because my research showed that “Tetranychus urticae is extremely polyphagous; it can feed on hundreds [note, actually known to feed on thousands] of plants.” What does this mean to the gardener? Over many hundreds of millions of years plants as a general life form have evolved to become the best chemical synthesizers on the planet in part as a means of defense. Plants produce a wide variety of toxins purpose-driven to target predators and either kill them or discourage predation. Because Spider Mites are so polyphagous, they have also evolved to be able to adapt to a broad spectrum of plant toxins. Many of our common pesticides are based on plant toxins, including pyrethrins which figure prominently in traditional Spider Mite control strategies. It should be noted that Spider Mites are notorious chrysanthemum pests - this is important because pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemums. Deductive reasoning would suggest that if Spider Mites can deal with naturally occurring pyrethrins, then they may be able to adapt to artificial pyrethrins too. Experience around the world shows this last statement to be true, Spider Mites can adapt to pyrethrins. Please see the next note.
Spider Mites are prolific - Under optimal conditions (approximately 80 °F or 27 °C), the Spider Mite can hatch in as little as 3 days, and become sexually mature in as little as 5 days. One female can lay up to 20 eggs per day and can live for 2 to 4 weeks, laying hundreds of eggs. Thus, a single mature female can spawn a population of a million mites in a month or less. This accelerated reproductive rate also assists in allowing Spider Mite populations to adapt quickly to resist pesticides, so we see that again chemical control methods can become somewhat ineffectual when the same pesticide is used over a prolonged period.
Spider Mites are really adaptable - Current research suggests that Spider Mites show signs of Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). What we humans are used to is called Vertical Gene Transfer (VGT); for each of us, 50% of our genetic material is passed down from each of our parents; half from mom, half from dad. This is how it works for lions and squid and bees and rutabagas and nasturtiums - they all get half from mom, half from dad. It works, its common throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. HGT theory suggests that some organisms may uptake foreign genetic material from their environment (genetic material gleaned from food, hosted bacteria and viruses, and through external contact) as a part of their defensive/evolutionary strategy. If Spider Mites do possess the capacity for HGT, as current science suggests, then their ability to withstand environmental toxins becomes nearly infinite because they will continually integrate genetic material from their environment to use in broadening their genetic pool and any mites which survive a resident toxin will swiftly add their DNA to that greater genetic pool, passing their resistances on into play throughout the greater population.
Spider Mites seek to colonize Stem and Inflorescence Meristematic Zones - Eh, what? Spider Mites like to lay their eggs in the budding tops and flowers of plants. Typically, these are the above-ground regions of the plant where the greatest concentrations of nutrients, sugars and hydration are available. Perfect territory for raising Spider Mite babies. Also, when the time comes, being at an extended top or bud allows the greatest access to wind-borne transportation (c.f., webbing as locomotion). Spider Mites WILL lay their eggs everywhere on the plant, but they always seem to seek the top first, then work their way back down; I noticed this by my own observation. I do not know if it is entirely consistent, but I rarely saw Spider Mites traveling downstem, almost always towards the top.
Spider mites, like hymenopterans and some homopterous insects, are arrhenotochous - Again, Spider Mites are prolific. I mean, really prolific. They don’t even need males to reproduce. Crikey, these little guys are prolific and built to survive even if they can’t find a mate. I believe the word is “fecund”.
Based on this research gleaned from hard copy agricultural publications, online research (sources including numerous collegiate, agricultural and industrial articles), wikipedia articles, local gardening store representatives and fellow plant enthusiasts I arrived at the conclusion that chemical and predatory control methods would NEVER completely eradicate the pests. On numerous occasions I was even told by fellow gardeners that “spider mites are everywhere, even in the air, and once you have them you can never totally rid your growspace of the mites”. This last statement reflects current professional opinion, though in my experience based on the results I have seen with my Spider Mite traps, it is incorrect.
What I invented “fixes” the mite, all eggs laid while entrapped, the larvae that hatch from “fixed” eggs and any larvae that mature to nymph or adult stages while entrapped. Eggs do not drop off the trap to hatch in the soil below, and mired mites cannot use wind and webbing to escape to neighboring plants. Local Spider Mite populations quickly drop to unsustainable levels at which point signs of the infestation are largely gone and the plants heal, returning to normal vigor,