Chiggers, Redbugs, Itch Mites, Oh My!
With summer just around the corner, it's time to prepare for chigger bites, treatment and prevention. These tips will keep you protected from spring until fall, the most active times of year for chiggers.
Chiggers are troublesome, pesky creatures. Along with the dreaded mosquito, they are the bane of summer. Their bites can be worse than the heat, humidity and even sunburn.
Sometimes called redbugs or berry bugs, chiggers are not actually red bugs. In fact, they are not bugs at all.
Chiggers are the larval form of a family of mites called Trombiculidae, commonly known as harvest mites or scrub-itch mites. They are eight-legged arachnids like spiders and scorpions, and they are closely related to ticks.
Chiggers are so small, they are nearly invisible to the naked eye. When several of them cluster together on the skin, they look like a bright red bump. Their presence starts out as tiny red skin bumps, followed by days of intense itching. This leads to hard red welts that continue to irritate the skin for days to come.
Chigger Bites and Itches
Chigger myths abound. One claims that chiggers burrow into the skin and die, leaving behind a persistent itch. This myth is rooted in America's southern states where jigger fleas, chigoes and other pests do attack beneath the skin.
Chiggers are somewhat like fleas in that they bite rather than burrow into the skin. However, they do not drink blood. Instead, they attach their tiny specialized mouth parts to the skin and inject saliva into their victim. The saliva deteriorates the skin cells around the bite, and chiggers ingest this liquefied tissue for food. It is this process, not the bite itself, that causes the annoying itch.
Chiggers quietly attack their victims. Within a few hours of feeding, human skin reacts by hardening the cells along the saliva path. This forms a hard tube-like structure called a stylostome.
As they they ward off corrosive saliva, stylostomes serve as feeding tubes or straws for chiggers. Repeated saliva injections and feeding cause the familiar red welt and intense itching associated with chigger bites.
Because their mouth parts are short and delicate, chiggers usually attach themselves to thin or wrinkled areas of skin. Most bites occur on the ankle, crotch, waist, armpits or behind the knees.
Chiggers tend to congregate in grassy patches and shady areas where the temperature is mild. To keep bites to a minimum, treat infested areas and wear protective clothing. Read on for some effective ways to guard against chigger bites.
- Protective clothes and shoes
- Mosquito or insect repellant
- Lawn supplies and equipment
- Warm water and soap
- Dry towel or other cloth
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antihistamine medication
- Topical antiseptic product
Prevention and Treatment
1. Protective Clothing. Summer clothes like sleeveless shirts, shorts, swimsuits and sandals invite chigger bites. Long-sleeved shirts, blue jeans, socks and boots or high-topped shoes are better choices. Wear them in chigger infested areas.
Be sure to wash your clothes as soon as you're back home. This will get rid of any chiggers still hanging on your clothes.
2. Mosquito Repellent. Regular mosquito spray also repels chiggers. For the most effective treatment, apply the spray to your exposed skin and to the edge of your clothes: sleeve cuffs, waistbands and boot tops. Chiggers will have to cross the treated line to get under your clothes. Reapply repellents frequently, as they lose potency after a few hours.
3. Lawn Maintenance. Plan your backyard activities away from chigger habitats. Lawn maintenance will control the chigger population in your own backyard. Mow the grass, remove weeds and clear brush in preparation for outdoor events. Chiggers are less likely in a clean and well-groomed yard.
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4. Warm Soapy Water. Soap and water will usually remove chiggers from your body and kill them. Take a warm, soapy bath before your skin starts to itch. This will remove chiggers roaming on your skin, as well as those that are already attached and feeding.
5. Light Towel Rubbing. If you are outdoors, in the woods or away from home, a light towel rubbing will effectively remove chiggers. Rubbing your body and clothes with a dry towel will remove the pests before they can do much damage.
6. Household Products. Avoid them. It's not necessary to treat chiggers with products like alcohol, ammonia, gasoline, kerosene, turpentine or salt. In fact, household products are often dangerous treatments. Warm, soapy water will do the trick.
7. Itch and Pain Relief. Hydrocortisone creams can relieve the suffering caused by chigger bites. Calamine lotion and baking soda pastes are effective topical treatments. Some people turn to antihistamines and allergy medications.
8. Scratching the Itch. It's hard to resist scratching an itch, but try to avoid it. Deep or constant scratching can further irritate the skin. It may even cause secondary infections that are worse than the chigger bites. If you must scratch a bite, disinfect your skin with a topical antiseptic like hydrogen peroxide or alcohol.
H. B. Hungerford penned this lymerick on or around 1920. Hungerford worked as an entomologist for the University of Kansas Department of Entomology.
The thing called a chigger
is really no bigger
than the small end of a pin.
But the bump that it raises
just itches like blazes
and that's where the rub sets in.
Reference Sources / Further Reading
- Bicknese, Nina. (n.d.) "Chiggers!" Missouri Department of Conservation. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
- Dugdale, David C. (September 15, 2010) "Chiggers." MedlinePlus. Retrieved May 14, 2011
- Lyon, William F. (n.d.) "Chiggers." Ohio State University Extension Service. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
- Oklahoma State University staff. (n.d.) "Chiggers, Jiggers, Harvest Mites, or Red Bugs." Oklahoma State University: Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
- Stoppler, Melissa Conrad. (n.d.) "Chiggers (Chigger Bites)." MedicineNet. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
Copyright © 2011. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published: May 14, 2011 / Modified: December 15, 2012.
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This Hub was last updated on December 15, 2012
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