A wood mite is a type of insect and mite. In 1994, a deadly but tiny, bioluminescent kind of wood mite was discovered in Olympic National Forest, in Northwest Washington State. Unlike most other insects, these mites were not attracted to the light, preferring to kill their prey in the darkness of night, and were known to occasionally enter an unmoving, dormant phase when subjected to an illuminated environment. Similarly, the mites were not as visible in the light as they were in the dark. Like fireflies, the wood mites oxidized enzymes; large proportions of a chemical known as luciferene - essentially, enzymes found in fireflies and other bioluminescent insects - was typical in an area where the mites had been draining their prey of bodily fluids, the insects' method of killing their victims.
The origins of the bioluminescent wood mites are not entirely known. In 1994, FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder suggested that the insects could have spawned from ancient insect larvae or eggs of a species otherwise extinct, thousands or perhaps even millions of years old, and had lain dormant since then within a specific Douglas fir tree after having been deposited during a period of volcanic activity. Mulder had earlier postulated at least two theories that had been deemed unlikely.
In 1934, a WPA crew from the Schiff-Immergut Lumber Company vanished without a trace from an area in Olympic National Forest. None of these men were ever found or heard from again. It was later believed, however, that they had been killed by the wood mites.
In 1994, a team of thirty loggers similarly disappeared when radio communication with the men was cut off. The loggers seemed aware of the threat that the wood mites posed to them. It was ultimately believed that all thirty of these men, like the WPA crew before them, had been victims of the wood mites. Loggers Dyer and Perkins certainly had a terrifying encounter with the wood mites and it is likely that they both perished due to the insects. Doug Spinney, a so-called "monkeywrencher", later suggested the possibility that the mites had been unleashed when the loggers had cut down the Douglas fir tree in which the insects had been lying dormant. Spinney also claimed to have witnessed the death of his friend, Steven Teague, right after the Douglas fir tree had been cut down and that the team of thirty loggers had disappeared about the same time.
An attempt to investigate the disappearance of the loggers was made when two officials working for the Federal Forest Service were sent into the forest, but all contact with them was also lost.
The recent disappearances were subsequently investigated by a group that consisted of another two employees of the Federal Forest Service, Larry Moore and Steve Humphreys, as well as FBI Special Agent Dana Scully and Agent Fox Mulder. While stranded in Olympic National Forest, the group was joined by Doug Spinney and discovered the insects. Every member of the group encountered the mites and the insects killed Humphreys. Moore, Mulder and Scully were attacked by the mites but survived long enough to be rescued by a sanatory group wearing clean, white suits that took the three survivors to a High Containment Facility in Winthrop, Washington. Additionally, Spinney had four friends elsewhere in the forest who also died.
- It is uncertain whether Spinney himself survived his encounter with the insects, as he ran into the forest during the incident and did not appear again. He was not in the same High Containment Facility where Mulder, Scully and Moore were taken.
It was only after the three survivors were rescued that the sanatory team identified the biological hazard as a bioluminescent form of insect. While they were still to determine the epithet of the insect, a member of the team told Mulder that the US government had initiated eradication procedures and were determined to succeed, using a combination of controlled burns and pesticides.
Unusual Swarming PatternEdit
Amongst other places, the wood mites swarmed inside an inner growth ring of the Douglas fir tree where they were thought to have originated. This swarming pattern was highly unusual. This was because, although other parasites would attack a tree in a variety of ways, they would always attack the living parts of the tree - for example, the leaves, roots, and new growth rings - rather than the inner rings that were essentially dead wood.
Moore, Humphreys, Mulder and Scully found the unusual growth ring after the tree had seemingly been cut down. Upon this discovery, Moore took a core sample of the tree and admitted that, in his experiences as an employee of the Federal Forest Service, he had "never seen a ring like that before". Closer inspection of the ring revealed that the mites seemed to be feeding on the wood in the ring and hatching out of the porous wood.
It was this strange growth ring that led to the theories concerning the insects' origins. Mulder theorized that the strange growth ring was where the extinct insect larvae now were, after they had been brought up through the tree's root system.
Mulder also suggested that the strange behavior of the mites could be due to the wood in that particular ring possibly being different, a theory supported by the insects seeming to feed on the ring. Scully theorized that the appearance of the insects apparently hatching out of the porous wood could be an indication that Moore had tapped into a larger nest when he had drawn out the core.
In an illuminated environment, the wood mites resembled a greasy residue. Mulder found this residue in a cabin where he, Scully, Moore and Humphreys mainly stayed, during their visit to the forest together. The greasy residue was discovered on top of a refrigerator and a cooker in the cabin, as well as on a surface above the cooker. It was also Mulder who ultimately realized that the residue was actually the wood mites themselves.
The wood mites wrapped grayish white cocoons around their victims. Moore, Mulder and Scully discovered one of these cocoons near a deforested area, horizontally affixed to a branch in the air. The group had difficulty in establishing what the cocoon was and, like the tree ring, Moore remarked that he had "never seen anything like it". He suggested that the weblike creation could be a spider's nest and that it looked similar to a hive. The most popular explanation, however, was an insect cocoon.
This cocoon contained a male corpse that seemed desiccated and mummified due to all the fluids having been bled from its body, not because it had been embalmed. The corpse was not entirely wrapped in the cocoon, as a few rotting fingers protruded through part of the web. Although the threesome was uncertain as to what kind of insect could have lifted the male body up into the tree, Spinney later claimed that he had seen his friend, Steven Teague, be taken "right off his feet" by the insects as they had killed him. Even though only one cocoon had been found, Scully believed that others, containing bodies from the WPA crew and the group of thirty loggers, also existed. She suggested that the insects might cocoon their prey so that they could oxidize the proteins taken from their victims' bodily fluids.
Scully, Mulder and Moore later discovered another cocoon encasing Humphreys' corpse in his car, next to a door and window in the vehicle. Shortly thereafter, the threesome were surrounded by a cocoon themselves in a Jeep, until they were rescued. (TXF: "Darkness Falls")
- WPA crew
- Steven Teague
- Team of 30 loggers
- Steve Humphreys
- Doug Spinney (possibly survived)
- Fox Mulder (survived)
- Dana Scully (survived)
- Larry Moore (survived)
In the version of the script used to film "Darkness Falls", the ring where the wood mites swarm in the tree is said to be "sulfurous yellow". In the episode's final version, the ring appears to be green, like the mites themselves, but it is still referred to as being yellow. The tree where the insects swarm was originally to be a redwood but this was also changed.
Most of the green mite effects were digitally created and added in post-production, synchronized to the movements of the actors. As production staff of The X-Files were unsatisfied with the stock footage they could find that featured close-up shots of insects, a couple of close-up shots were especially filmed using real mites, with the cooperation of a cameraman whose specialty was in microscopic photography. Filming these shots of mites proved difficult as the insects were extremely temperamental, due to their common behavior of shying away from the light needed to film them, and their smallness meant they could not be corralled by humans. After the production staff eventually realized that a cold environment slowed the insects' movements, they used a nitrogen solution, around which the mites congregated, and filmed them within a time window of about thirty seconds before the insects started to disperse.