National Geographic : 1998 Dec
T he habitat was deeply inhospitable-a sheer bluff, knotted and furrowed by subsurface tremors, intermittently flooded, buffeted by winds, burned by the sun. My guide was Cliff Desch, a mild, likable University of Connecticut professor with unruly gray hair winging out over the tops of his ears. We were searching for life on the human body, or more precisely, on the hostile terrain of my own forehead. I took a bobby pin, as instructed, and scraped the crook of it hard across the skin in front of my hair line. Then, like a fisherman emptying his nets, I spread my catch on a glass slide. The human body, especially the face, is the natural habitat for two species of mites, Desch said, as he placed the slide under a microscope. One species is minutely adapted to the hair follicle. The other ensconces itself in the micro habitat of the sebaceous gland, less than a mil limeter away. Sir Richard Owen, better known for naming another buried life-form, the dino saur, brought the follicle mite to the atten tion of the world in the 1840s. He called the genus Demodex, meaning "lard worm" (though mites are actually distant relatives of spiders).