Everything You (N)ever Wanted to Know About Chiggers

Mosquitoes are a big problem for a good portion of the year, from when it begins to regularly warm up, until it frosts over in the fall.  And if you live in certain parts of the country, chiggers can be a big nuisance as well.  And there is a lot of misinformation and wives tales about chiggers, so I’ve compiled a short list of points of which I wanted clarification or verification.

Chiggers do not burrow under your skin, as many people believe, nor do they feed on animal blood. They actually feed on the fluids in skin cells. To get the fluids, they attach themselves to a skin pore or hair follicle and inject a digestive enzyme that ruptures the cells. The enzyme also hardens the surrounding skin tissue, forming a sort of straw for sucking the skin cell fluids. The whole process irritates the skin, causing an itchy red bump that continues to cause discomfort for several days. Chiggers are only about 1/50th of an inch (0.5 mm) in diameter and so are too small to be seen with the naked eye. This invisibility is the reason so many people believe chiggers burrow under the skin.

One commonly known remedy for chigger bites is to apply nail polish to reduce itchiness. This does not kill the chigger or treat the bite in any way. It simply seals the area off from the air, which keeps the sore from itching so badly. If you want to apply something to relieve itching, it’s much better to use a salve or cream that contains antihistamines.  (source)

 For humans, itching usually occurs after the larvae detach from the skin. (Wikipedia)

This summer I received a frantic call from a customer who thought his steps and sidewalk were being invaded by chiggers (sometimes called red bugs).  After listening to some more details I was able to diagnose over the phone that it was not chiggers but clover mites.  (source)

Feeling crawly?  There are a few reasons that could be, ranging from allergies, reactions to products, and, of course, biting insects or arthropods.

“Well, my bites don’t look like chigger bites,” you may say.  Sometimes chigger bites may look as innocuous as mosquito bites.

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Or…. they may look like a porcupine exploded on your ankles and you spent the better part of a day pulling out quills.

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Generally, the adult chiggers eat vegetation; it’s the nymphs that tear some people up.

 They crawl onto people and move upward until they encounter a point of constriction between skin and clothing, such as around the ankles, behind the knee, or at the waistline. Chigger bites produce a hardened, red welt which begins to itch intensely within 24-48 hours after exposure to the mite. Consequently, people may not associate the irritation with the fact that they were bitten while walking outdoors a day or two before. Delayed irritation following a “bug” bite is also common with such pests as mosquitoes and ticks, as well as with the contact dermatitis which results from exposure to poison ivy/poison oak.

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Let me just reiterate…in case it wasn’t clear the first time, chiggers do not burrow under your skin.  For some reason, that is a myth a lot of people are loath to let go of.  For my part, I’d rather NOT think of bugs under my skin.

Chiggers can’t burrow. If left undisturbed, they’ll keep eating for several days. Even when attached, however, they’re easy to brush off — especially when taking a warm, soapy shower

People typically don’t feel chiggers, even when the mites insert their mouthparts. Humans’ first clue that chiggers are around usually comes 6 to 8 hours later, when the bites finally start to itch.

So, anyhoo…you’re very welcome for that grody public service announcement.  Hope it helped clear up any nagging arthropod questions you may be having.   Til next time…

Peace out.

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