There’s a famous quote by Arthur C. Clarke that claims, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And unless you have a microscope lying around at home, you may start thinking about hexes and spells when you spot tiny white bugs that look like dust. Some are harmless, but they’re still disconcerting, so let’s check them out.
Tiny White Bugs That Look Like Dust
1. Dog Lice
If you have a dog that frequently runs outdoors, you may have a hard time distinguishing dog lice from dandruff. They have a similar appearance and both look like dusty white flakes. And they have a similar approach since you’ll have to brush them off your dog. But dog lice cling to your dog’s fur while dandruff easily shakes off. It’s the clearest distinguishing factor.
It helps to know lice can’t cross-contaminate. So dog lice and cat lice can’t infest humans and vice versa. The dog lice use hooked claws to grab the hair follicles in your dog’s fur. They look like white dust but are actually tiny white bugs with six legs and no wings. To get rid of the lice, keep your dog’s fur well-trimmed and use anti-tick and anti-flea meds that work on lice.
2. Baby Bedbugs
Grown bedbugs are usually brown but their eggs and nymphs are on the lighter side and may be mistaken for white dust. They’re 1mm to 1.5mm and while a bedbug only needs about 10 minutes per meal (anywhere from 3 to 12 minutes), they can sometimes for months without eating. The estimate is three weeks to 13 months! This is what makes them so tough to beat.
A healthy bedbug needs food once or twice a week, but whenever it’s not eating, it mates and lays eggs, producing up to five eggs every day. This is why controlling bedbugs involves deep cleaning to grab any eggs and nymphs as well as destroying adult bedbugs. A vacuum cleaner is great for sucking up these tiny white bugs that look like dust, but dispose of them carefully!
Whiteflies are tiny half-inch bugs that mostly hang out under leaves. They live and feed in clusters so when you disturb their green dinner plate, they flutter and rise in waves of white dust. And their eggs resemble sticky dust as well. A female lays about 400 of these off-white or yellow ovals. They cling to leaves and immediately feed for one week before they hatch.
They get darker when they’re about to burst open, so older eggs are brown. Since the eggs and nymphs stick to the leaves, use a pressure hose to detach them so they can starve. But collect the fallen debris and trash it, otherwise these bugs will just glue themselves to new leaves and carry on. Insecticide soap spray is a smart option as well. Evenings are safest.
4. Dust Mites
Dust mites are microscopic, so you can’t actually see them. But they live in multitudes that eat dry cells and decayed skin, releasing waste products that mix into their surroundings. The combination of the mites themselves, their effluent, and the dirt they feed on gives them that dusty white appearance. They trigger respiratory allergies, asthma, and inflamed sinuses.
They might also redden your eyes (conjunctivitis) or make your skin break out (eczema) if you’re particularly susceptible. You can take pills and injections to manage your allergy and to manage the mites themselves, use protective materials like duct tape on seams and zippers to keep the mites from escaping the fabric of your bed or pillow. A HEPA vacuum helps too.
5. Mealy Bugs
If you have a greenhouse or a kitchen garden, you might notice dusty white fluff on your plants. That’s not dirt, but it might be a colony of mealy bugs. These insects have soft bodies, no wings, and features that resemble tiny fluffy cotton balls. Their mouths are called stylets, and they suck the sap out of your plants, pulling out nutrients and weakening the garden.
Plants infested with mealy bugs get yellow and shriveled. The mealy bugs excrete honeydew onto the plant, which can keep it damp and develop a soot-like mold. This damages your fruit trees and pretty potted flowers. Their eggs are easy to ignore because they look like harmless mildew under the leaves. You can attack mealy bugs directly with Q-tips dipped in alcohol.
6. Mold Mites
Lots of mites are tiny white bugs that look like dust. And it’s a catch-all insect category with slight differences between the species. For example, dust mites eat dust while mold mites – as their name implies – eat mold. And when you spot an infestation, it’s a smattering layer of white dust resting on darker layers of mold. Bleach is the quickest way to resolve this.
You can dip white paper towels in bleach until they’re saturated, twist them into soaked ropes, and place them over the moldy corners overnight to kill the mold. With their food supply gone, the mold mites will die off too. But if the mold mites are on a wall, shelf, or vertical surface, a concentrate spray of bleach or vinegar can be an equally effective solution.
7. Flour Mites
Mites are often categorized by their preferred food or habitat. Hence mold mites, dust mites, or wall mites. As for flour mites or grain mites, they’re attracted to cereals, flour, and starchy pantry items. They’re tiny white bugs that look like dust, so they’re easily hidden in your dry goods. They’ll mix into your powdered products, rice, sugar, and dried legumes.
You might carry them in from the farm or even from the grocery store, so you should inspect all food before you bring it indoors. It helps to freeze the food for a week or two. That kills any eggs or live pests. You can then transfer the food to airtight containers since any mites from the packaging might spread to other food items. Avoid putting pesticides in the food.
8. Woolly Aphids
The tiny white bugs we’ve seen so far all live above the ground. But woolly aphids feed underground too, so you can find their fuzzy colonies on both the leaves and roots of their base plant. They’re related to mealy bugs and scale bugs, so they have that same white fluff. And they suck sap from branches too, so you can find their traces all over their target plant.
Beyond the white dust, they can cause black tumors called galls that expose the plant to fungal infections and premature rotting. Their honeydew attracts ants and eventually leads to mold. These pests love apples of all kinds, and that white waxy dust camouflages a blackish-blue bug. Chemicals aren’t advisable. Just prune and burn any infested plant parts.
Because booklice feed on cellulose and move really fast, they’re often mistaken for white dust. If you find some old newspapers they’ve been feeding on and shake it loose, flaky white fluff will drop. This dust will include digested materials, sheddings, bug poop, and the lice themselves. Also, apart from books, these lice can eat cardboard, starch, and wallpaper glue.
They prefer pulp that’s been partially rotted by moisture and mold since that’s easier to ingest. So the best way to get rid of them is to keep your literature in dry, waterproof bins and adjust your HVAC system to minimize humidity. You can also treat your shelves for mold by spraying bleach or vinegar then scrubbing off the mold to reduce food sources.
10. White Spider Mites
The name of an insect often gives clues to its appearance or its preferred diet. White spider mites follow that rule – they’re tiny, white, and have eight legs. But some sources leave the ‘spider’ put and just call them white mites. They’re half a millimeter wide and come in many colors, though the white ones are pretty common and quite prolific since they multiply fast.
Their webs aren’t fly traps, but they do produce silk and leave traces of it on plants as they feed. They don’t but humans, but this silk plus the bugs’ hairy bodies can wake allergies. In the house, you’ll find them on drapes, curtains, rugs, and other soft furnishings. Pesticide sprays are good for both killing and preventing white spider mites. Ensure good ventilation.
11. Body Lice
Lice generally grab onto the follicles or hair shafts of their prey then feed on their blood or skin cells. And since each animal has different patterns of fur, feathers, skin, etc., the louse has body adaptations to help them hold on. That’s why body lice can’t grip cats, dogs, birds, etc. Body lice don’t live on your body. They make their homes on your clothes or bedding.
They also lay eggs in the fabric and only jump on you when they want to feed. That’s why daily or at least weekly baths can break the cycle, and washing linens in hot disinfected water will kill them too. But you can pick them up from a bus, car, movie hall, or any public space where an infected person may have dropped them. Medical options include pediculicides.
12. Head Lice
In the same way that bird lice can’t attack humans and cat lice can’t cling to dog fur, body lice don’t infest your head and vice versa. The claws are designed differently so body lice can grip the finer hair on your skin while head lice can only latch onto your neck and scalp. Like dog lice, head lice resemble dandruff, but they don’t flake off when you brush or comb them.
For the record, the type that goes for your facial hair, armpits, and pubes are known as pubic lice aka crabs. That hair is coarser in those areas, so neither head lice nor body lice attack these body parts since they can’t attach. And unlike body lice or crabs, head lice don’t spread diseases. Repeated combing and shampooing will resolve them. Permethrin lotion works too.
13. Clothes Moth Larvae
While some moths can be pretty and colorful, most have a dull brown, grey, or mottled look that distinguishes them from butterflies. And their wings sometimes have a powdery layer of fluff. So if you find clothes moths in your closet, the dust and fuzz may annoy you, but it won’t surprise you. The eggs and larvae of these moths can sometimes be part of that dust.
You may spot them if the dust suddenly starts to move, or if it feels ticklish on your skin. Curiously, clothes moths never attack cotton or synthetics unless they have a lot of sweat, sebum, or fatty food stains. The moths only like animal fibers e.g. wool, leather, felt, feathers, fur, or silk because their larvae eat keratin.
If you’re idly staring at the wall, especially the corners or baseboards, you may notice a dust bunny or elliptical bit of fluff just sitting there. And you may be startled when it starts to move, or worse, when alien-looking thread-like things poke out and woggle around! What you’re looking at is a casebearer. It’s the caterpillar stage of a species of household moths.
People sometimes call them plaster bagworms, but that’s a totally different creature. Instead, casebearers use household detritus like hair, webs, dust, rust, and insect parts to form a bag or cocoon for their eggs. They can be helpful since they clean up the mess of other pests, but if you don’t like them, just sweep or vacuum the cases and dump them in warm soapy water.
15. Snow Fleas
Snow fleas or springtails are tiny white bugs that look like dust until they start hopping around. And if you look at them under a microscope or on a high-res slow-motion camera, you’ll be equally impressed and freaked out! Their name comes from the flea-like movements that they achieve by springing of the tail tucked beneath their bodies. They don’t bite people.
But since they can survive harsh winter weather, they can be an annoying houseguest when the other bugs are frozen and hibernating. They’re fine in the snow, but they might come indoors to look for food since their usual rotting snacks are buried in white fluff. Fix any holes, gaps, or leaks and use a dehumidifier to avoid creating the damp spots that lure them.
Did we leave out any tiny white bugs that look like dust? Tell us in the comments section!