Mites in Wheat Fields

Amanda de Oliveira Silva, Small Grains Extension Specialist

Areas of Oklahoma with dry conditions have begun to see some visible wheat injury due to brown wheat mite (Figure 1) and winter grain mite (Figure 2). Last week, Josh Bushong, OSU Northcentral Area Extension Agronomist, reported seeing fields with injury due to brown wheat mites in Alfalfa and Kingfisher counties (Figure 3). Later that week Tyler Lynch, the Senior Agriculturalist in the Small Grains Program also reported seeing wheat grain mites in our wheat plots at Alfalfa and Woods Counties.

Two common mites can injure wheat, the brown wheat mite and the winter grain mite. Producers need to remain alert so that they don’t mistake damaged wheat from small grains mites for drought or virus disease.

Figure 1. Brown wheat mite with oversummering egg

Brown wheat mite is small (about the size of this period.) with a metallic brown to black body and four pairs of yellowish legs (Figure 1). The forelegs are distinctly longer than the other three pairs. Brown wheat mites can complete a cycle in as little as 10-14 days. Oklahoma experiences multiple generations of brown wheat mites that usually peak in spring, and the last generation occurs in April. At that time, females produce a whitish egg that will over summer.

Figure 2. Winter grain mite with a kidney-shaped egg

Winter grain mite is small (about 1 mm long) with a dark blue to black body and four pairs of orange-red legs, and a small reddish spot on the top of its abdomen that can be seen under magnification (Figure 2). Winter grain mite eggs are kidney-shaped, and change from clear, to yellow to reddish-orange after several days. They are laid on leaf blades and stems or the roots near the crown. Besides wheat, many grasses serve as host plants, including barley, oats, ryegrass, and fescue. We typically experience two generations each year, a fall generation and a winter generation that cycles out in March.

Figure 3. Field infested with brown wheat mite. Photos taken by Josh Bushong at Kingfisher County on February 21, 2023.
Figure 4. Leaf stippling from brown wheat mite (left) and grain wheat mite (right) feeding. Photo on the right taken by Tyler Lynch at Alfalfa county on April 24, 2023.
Figure 5. Field infested with winter grain mite

Both mites feed by piercing plant cells in the leaf, which results in “stippling” (Figures 4 and 5). The leaves take on a characteristic brown-grayish or cast and could be mistaken for injury due to herbicide. These mites are more likely to cause injury in wheat stressed from lack of moisture or nutrients.

Figure 6. Winter grain mite hiding in residue


Brown wheat mites are not light sensitive but are vulnerable to driving rains of more than 0.25 inches, which tend to reduce populations. Winter grain mites are more tolerant of rainfall but are very light sensitive and tend to avoid bright, sunny days and windy days, so adjust your scouting accordingly. It is best to scout for winter grain mites on still, cloudy days or early morning/late evening. On sunny or windy days, they hide under the soil surface (up to a couple of inches) or congregate under dirt clods (Figure 6). Both mites are associated with continuous wheat production. Research suggests that brown wheat mite can be economically treated when there are 25-50 mites per leaf in wheat that is 6-9 inches tall. An alternative estimation is “several hundred” per foot of a row. The best recommendation for winter grain mite is to treat when plants show visible injury, and there are still mites present.

Chemical control

Only a few insecticides include either mite species on their label. Work conducted by Dr. Gerald Wilde at Kansas State evaluated several insecticides for the control of winter grain mites. Of those registered for winter grain mites, the insecticide dimethoate (Dimethoate and other generics) is effective. Other pyrethroid insecticides, lambda-cyhalothrin (Karate, Warrior II, and its generics), gamma-cyhalothrin (Declare) and beta-cyfluthrin (Baythroid and its generics) are also effective for both mites, even if they are not specifically listed on the label.

Additional resources

Contact your County Extension office

For more information on these mites, consult fact sheet EPP-7093 Mites in Small Grains by clicking here. If you find active mite infestations in your field, consult fact sheet CR-7194 Management of Insect and Mite Pests in Small Grains for registered insecticides, application rates, and grazing/harvest waiting periods by clicking here.