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Meet the mites that have sex on your face and nipples while you sleep

The idea of eight-legged mites that have sex on your face and nipples while you sleep may sound like a concept from the latest horror blockbuster.

But the creatures are very much real and are becoming such simplified organisms that they may soon ‘become one with humans,’ according to a new study.

Demodex folliculorum mites are carried by almost every human on the face, eyelashes, and nipples, moving between follicles looking for a mate.

Researchers from the University of Reading have sequenced a mite’s genome for the first time, and found inbreeding is causing them to shed unnecessary genes and cells.

Worryingly, the team says that the mites are moving towards a transition from external parasites to ‘internal symbionts’ that live within us.

 

The mites measure just 0.01 inches (0.3mm) long, and are passed on during birth.

In their study, the researchers set out to explain their bizarre mating habits, body features and evolutionary future, by analysing their DNA.

Dr Alejandra Perotti, who co-led the research, said: ‘We found these mites have a different arrangement of body part genes to other similar species due to them adapting to a sheltered life inside pores.

‘These changes to their DNA have resulted in some unusual body features and behaviours.’

Mites live an isolated existence, with no exposure to external threats.

For this reason, the mites are shedding unnecessary genes and cells, and surviving with the minimum number of proteins, according to the researchers.

Among the genes lost are those that provide UV protection and that cause animals to be awakened by daylight, which explains their nocturnal behaviour.

And while the mites have lost their ability to produce melatonin – a compound that makes invertebrates active at night – they can still fuel their evening mating sessions using melatonin secreted from human skin.

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