Our parasites and vermin reveal secrets of human history

My ex used to pop these things out of one particular spot on my face.

demodex_wide-3ae0bab529fbd9dbd3b98ff591fdd0542a271c65-s1600-c85Rae Ellen Bichell  of NPR reports they look like tiny tubes with stumpy legs. They can nestle snugly into pores, right at the base of small hairs. And there are probably hundreds on your face.

We’re taking about Demodex folliculorum, the mite that calls your hair follicles home. “Probably if you’ve ever gotten a gross gunky plug out of a nose pore, that’s what it looks like,” says Michelle Trautwein, an evolutionary biologist at the California Academy of Sciences. “When you get to know them, they’re actually pretty adorable.”

Trautwein and her colleagues have peeled the mites off microscope slides that they super-glued to their faces. They’ve scraped the little guys off people’s foreheads with the curved end of a bobby pin. They’ve even ferreted out the insects’ DNA from tiny spatulas of face grease.” They’ve probably been with us since the origin of our species,” she says.

And Trautwein thinks the mites could help answer questions about human migrations through history, perhaps more than genetics