Collective Migration in House Dust Mites


Anne-Catherine Mailleux, Unit of Ecology and Biogeography, Catholic University of Louvain, Croix du Sud 4-5 (Carnoy), 1348, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.


House dust mites (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus) are widespread in the furniture and mattresses of homes throughout Eurasia. Because human occupation induces wide diurnal fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity, the most favourable locations for mites change constantly and they must migrate repeatedly. Here, we triggered and studied mites migration movements to a new area. Mites migrated from a starting arena to a second arena through a diamond-shaped corridor offering a choice between two branches of equal length. In this article, we show that local air dryness and a distant water source were both necessary to trigger collective migration. Males and nymphs had a higher probability of migration than larvae and females. When migrating, although both branches initially appeared to be chosen equally, most mites eventually ended up choosing one particular branch. When about 50 or more mites had passed, there was an obvious choice of branch. We used a modelling approach to show that these data support the hypothesis that mites lay an attractive trail that is reinforced by followers. Consequently, the consistency of the collective choice is higher as the number of migrants grows. This article is the first to observe dust mite migration as a collective phenomenon.