Landscape & Garden Editor Kevin Johnson Gives Us the Itchy & Scratchy on the Little Mite That Could
I met someone the other day that told me a story about his recent visit to his doctor. He’d broken out with what appeared to be a horrible irritating rash and was surprised when the doctor explained to him that it wasn’t a rash, but that he’d fallen victim to chiggers.
Over the years I’ve heard many myths about this pesky little insect and those of us who spend time outdoors have probably already become more familiar with chiggers than we’d like to admit. But, are chiggers really insects? In this article we’ll get familiar with chiggers and dispel one myth associated with them.
Chiggers or Red Bugs as they are sometimes called are actually not insects. Technically Chiggers are the immature stage of certain mites belonging to the family Trombiculidae. More closely related to spiders than to insects, chiggers belong to the class Arachinida, along with scorpions and ticks.
They go through 4 developmental stages: egg, larval, nymph, and adult. The larval stage is where we mammals experience their damage. Chiggers measure no more than 0.3 millimeters long and without magnification they are difficult to see. They’re even more difficult to feel until it’s too late and you’ve become their favorite food.
Chiggers are found in most places out-of-doors where we enjoy spending time. They lurk in our lawns and gardens, in forests, near lakes, streams and rivers, and grassy fields. They tend to stay clumped together and hitch a ride on us, and our pets, as we pass by. Unfortunately they want more than a ride. Chiggers hitch rides on people who walk through infested vegetation. They grab onto shoes or clothing and typically explore a host for several hours before choosing a place to feed. Once on board, they crawl around until they find a hospitable patch of skin, often snuggling in along our waistband or under our socks. They have a few other prime spots they covet like armpits, crotches or the back of our knees.
Once chiggers find a suitable spot, they use their sharp jaws to pierce the skin and inject a digestive enzyme that breaks down our body tissue. Chiggers then get a great meal by feeding on our liquefied tissues, “yummy!” They’ll spend several days feeding on their host and once they’re satisfied, they drop off and continue to develop into a nymph.
One myth that needs to be debunked is that chiggers burrow into the skin where they remain unless we take action. Another is that smothering them with nail polish will kill them. Neither is true. Chigger bites will cause red bumps or even a hive like rash along with some swelling that leads to intense itching and causes a strong desire to scratch, which generally lasts several days.
As summer continues and we enjoy the out-of-doors, most of us are likely to encounter chiggers. There are a few precautions one can take. Insecticides containing DEET are effective and for the naturalist there are some oils that may work. It’s also wise to wear long pants and shirts with sleeves if you can stand the heat. Tucking your pants into your socks or even using duct tape to secure your leg opening will also help. However your best defense is to scrub off in a hot shower after spending time outdoors.
So now that you’re more familiar with chiggers, I hope you all can be prepared and avoid becoming their tasty next meal!
Kevin Johnson is the owner of Green Leaf Lawn and Ornamental, LLC, based in Blue Ridge.
For more information about the devastating hemlock woolly adelgid and treatment options, Kevin can be reached toll free at 866. 883. 2420 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his web site at www.wetreatlawns.com or visit www.hemlocks.org for more info.