|There is no critter on earth that can cause as much
agony for its size as the tiny chigger!
Common chiggers are also known as “jiggers” and “redbugs.” They attack campers, picnickers,
hikers, bird watchers, berry pickers, fishermen, hunters and of course homesteaders.
Chiggers are usually encountered in late spring and summer in areas where weeds and briars
have overgrown. They lurk on grass stems, leaves and shrubbery, usually in damp, shaded spots
near the top of objects close to the soil. They are more concentrated in low damp areas such
as the woods, berry patches, orchards and along lakes and streams. But they are also found in
drier places where vegetation is low such as lawns and parks. It is the young chiggers that
attach themselves to the skin of a wide variety of snakes, turtles, birds, and small mammals
as well as humans.
Adult chiggers spend their winter below the ground and in other protected places. The
females become active in the spring and will lay up to 15 eggs per day when soil temperatures
reach 60°F. The eggs hatch into six-legged larvae. This is the only stage of their life
when they attack humans (and animals). After hatching, chigger larvae climb up onto
vegetation so that they can more easily snag a passing host. In the larval stage, chiggers are
orange, yellow or light red. They are less than 1/150 of an inch in diameter. After their meal,
which can last from one to several days, the larvae drop off and transform into eight-legged
nymphs which mature to the adult stage. The life cycle is about 50 to 70 days, with adult
females living up to one year and producing offspring during this time.
Chiggers do not burrow into the skin, nor do they suck blood. They insert their mouthparts
into a skin pore or hair follicle. They inject a salivary secretion containing powerful,
digestive enzymes. This breaks down skin cells causing the tissue to become liquefied. The
chigger larvae then suck up this liquid to feed. Also, this digestive fluid causes surrounding
tissues to harden, forming a feeding tube (like a drinking straw). After a larva is fully fed,
in approximately four days, it drops from the host. Their “bites” produce small, reddish
welts on the skin accompanied by intense itching as irritating as acute cases of poison ivory
or poison sumac. Any welts, swelling, itching, or fever will usually develop three to six hours
after exposure and may continue for a week or more. Scratching a bite may break the skin,
resulting in secondary infections. However, chiggers are not known to transmit any disease
in this country.
These symptoms often are the only way of learning that an outdoor area is infested. Because
chiggers are so small, they are hard to avoid. Most persons cannot see them without a
magnifying glass and so the bites may be the only indication that the bugs have infested a
certain area. The preferred feeding areas on people are parts of the body where clothing
fits tightly over the skin such as around the belt line, waistline, under girdles and under
socks, or where the flesh is thin, tender or wrinkled such as the ankles, in the armpits, back
of the knees, in front of the elbow, or in the groin.
Chiggers are active from spring to late fall but are most numerous in early summer when
weeds, grasses and undergrowth are the heaviest. Nymphs and adults feed on insect eggs,
small insects and other organisms found on or near decaying wood. Larval chiggers congregate
in shaded niches near the tips of grass leaves, weeds, sticks and other objects close to the
ground. They are activated upon the approach of a suitable host, probably by odor, carbon
dioxide output and other stimulating factors, and crawl onto the host for feeding.
Immediately after exposure to chigger-infested areas, take a hot bath to kill and remove
chigger larvae. Destroying the chigger usually does not stop the itching completely because
the itching is caused by tissue reaction to the fluid injected by the chigger. Normally, two
to three days pass before the itching stops. Any unusual allergic reaction, fever or infection
should be treated by a physician.
It is also important to launder clothes in soapy, hot water (125°F.) for about half an hour.
Infested clothes should not be worn again until they are properly laundered and/or exposed to
hot sunshine. Unlaundered clothes or those laundered in cool water will still contain the biting
chiggers, which will re-infest your skin.
Treating known chigger trouble spots is quicker and less expensive than treating an entire
area. Place six-inch squares of black cardboard on edge in the grass and observe for a few
minutes. Any small, yellowish or pinkish chiggers present will climb rapidly to the top of the
square and congregate there. Make tests in 10 to 12 different spots such as grass, dead
leaves, briars, weeds, etc. Unless the entire area is infested, treat only the spots where
control is desired such as grass around picnic tables, lawn chairs, or recreational equipment.
Chiggers tend to concentrate in "mite islands" while nearby spots are free of them. They
become rather inactive at temperatures below 60°F.
|One school of thought suggests that chiggers HATE sulfur. Here is a link to the University of
Missouri-Columbia where they discuss chiggers vs. sulfur.
|Here is a selection from that article:
“By far, the most effective and time proven repellent for chiggers is sulfur. Chiggers hate sulfur and definitely
avoid it. Powdered sulfur, called sublimed sulfur or flowers of sulfur, is available through most pharmacies.
Dust the powdered sulfur around the opening of your pants, socks and boots. If you plan to venture into a
heavily infested area, powdered sulfur can be rubbed over the skin on your legs, arms and waist. Some people
rub on a mixture of half talcum powder and half sulfur. But a word of warning: sulfur has a strong odor. The
combination of sulfur and sweat will make you unpleasant company for anyone who has not had the same
treatment. Sulfur is also irritating to the skin of some people. If you have not used sulfur before, try it on a
small area of your skin first.”
Mowing of briars, weeds, and thick vegetation and close clipping of lawns, to eliminate shade and
moisture, will reduce chigger populations, and permit sunlight and air to circulate freely.
Chigger larvae can penetrate many types of clothing. High boots and trousers of
tightly woven fabric tucked into stockings or boots help deter them.
Try putting sulfur in a pillow case and drag it around your yard just before summer to
keep the chiggers away.
To make a "sulfur sachet", take a piece of old cotton (the looser the weave the better), put
about a quarter cup of sulfur inside, and tie up with a rubber band. Get an old butter tub and
put about a cup of sulfur in it in which to dip your sachet.
Keep moving since the worst chigger infestations occur when sitting or laying down in a
sunny spot at midday with temperatures above 60°F. If possible, stick to roads and trails.
Spray starch is said to work on chigger itch.
Try rubbing the area with stick deodorant.
|Of course you can always resort to off-the shelf products...
Before going into an area where chiggers may be present, protect yourself by using a
repellent such as deet (Off MGK, Muskol, Detamide, Metadelphene, Repel,
Diethy-toluamide) or permethrin are available at many drugstores or hardware stores.
Deet-based repellents are effective for only a few hours, whereas permethrin-based
repellents are for use only on clothing and effective for several days. Apply the repellent
to both the skin and clothing, especially on hands, arms, or legs, if uncovered, and to clothing
openings at cuffs, neck, waistband, and upper edges of socks. Follow label directions since
repellents may damage plastics, nail polish, and painted or varnished surfaces. Do not use
any product indiscriminately as severe human allergies can develop.
|Temporary relief from chiggers if you weren’t successful in preventing them:
Disclaimer: There are many recommendations for the temporary relief from the itching. The following treatments have been
gathered from farmers, ranchers, homesteaders and country folk. We have not tried them all and do not endorse any of the remedies
at this time. If any of these solutions work for you we would love to hear about it.
|Some people use Vaseline, cold cream, baby oil, or fingernail polish.
|Slightly wet the bite and rub meat tenderizer into your skin.
|Put a cup of bleach in a bath tub full of warm water and soak for 10 minutes.
|Shaklee's Basic H can be applied to your skin.
|Another method is the application of Lavander Essential Oil.
The most common approach to easing the itch is by using a commercial product that contains
a mild, local anesthetic. Ointments of benzocaine, hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, New
Skin, After Bite, or others recommended by pharmacists and doctors.
No matter which treatment you use, remember…the best treatment is the one that
is applied as soon as possible. The sooner the treatment, the better the results.
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