Monday, January 23, 2012

Chiggers

I know I just did an interesting animal post, but I decided to blog about these small creatures after receiving several bites on my feet and ankles during my recent romp with Ebon.

The numerous species of chigger are in the Family Trombiculidae.
Chigger bites will look a bit like pimples
If you have never run into chiggers before, then you are quite fortunate. These tiny arthropods are more closely related to spiders than insects, and are also called red bugs, harvest mites, berry bugs, and several other common names. Though I know them best as chiggers, most of the locals here in Georgia call them red bugs. Interestingly enough, though the adults of these bright red mites have the expected eight legs, the larvae have only six. Most species prefer areas covered in lots of vegetation that have a rather high amount of moisture. However, other species like it dry. The are usually only active during the spring and fall, but more temperate areas like where I live have them active all year round.

It's the larvae that do the biting, and boy do those bites itch like crazy! When the initial bite occurs, you won't even know it happens, but after some time you will feel a burning sensation, followed by severe itching. The bites of chiggers found in the United States aren't dangerous unless you scratch them too much and cause an infection, so something to calm the itch is a very good suggestion. Though many think they feed on blood, in fact they do not, instead ingesting tissue that is liquified using specialized saliva. Despite what many people assume, the larvae do not burrow into the skin. Instead, only the mouth-parts are inserted and thus the chigger is usually easily knocked off with the scratching that follows their bite. So, all of the home remedies that are supposedly meant to suffocate the burrowed creatures are pointless.

Luckily, applying bug spray that contains DEET will help keep the chiggers away. Certain types of clothing also helps, namely the general suggested dress for romps through the woods: tight-woven clothing covering as much skin as possible, with pants tucked into boots and sleeves and collars fitting close to the body. Products can also be applied to fabrics to help ward off chiggers. Also, it's helpful to know about whatever areas where you live are infested. When I was doing my undergraduate studies, we spent a lot of time trekking through heavy brush and my professors often warned us about where they knew chiggers would be found. Areas can be treated using certain pesticides or cutting down brush to control or eliminate these small creatures, but this isn't always practical.

Sources are Ohio State University, University of Florida, Missouri Department of Conservation, and PubMed Health. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.

6 comments:

  1. I remember these from otherwise fun evenings with all my cousins in my grandparents' yard. It seems to me those chiggers went to a line of clothing and bit, so we would have "pants line" chigger bites, not random bites like your photo shows.

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  2. I bet the person in the picture was laying in a field when she received her bites. They will go for exposed skin, but also like to go for right where the clothing stops. My recent bites are on the little bit of exposed skin that I had on that day: namely my ankles and the top of my feet.

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  3. I had my first experience with chiggers (red bugs) this March/April in Central Florida. It would be obscene to post pictures of the places they bit. The bites were remarkable in causing itching fits at around 3 am and in having an itch that persisted for a week or more. More recently, working in the same areas in my property, and doing quite a bit of messing with Spanish moss, I haven't suffered any bites (though I get more Lone Star ticks than my dogs do).
    There are hundreds of species of chigger. I suspect they have somewhat different patterns of biting people . . . and somewhat different times of larval emergence. Fortunately, the ones here don't seem to bother the dogs.

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  5. Ohhhh Sayyyy Caaaan you seeeeee...Any Redbugs on meeeee....If you do, pick a feeeewwww and weeeeell have Redbug stew!! (Alabama State Anthem).

    If you keep a bag of powdered garden sulfur on your front porch and lightly dust your shoes and pants legs prior to any walks in areas prone to chiggers and ticks you will avoid nearly all encounters with these little southern nasties without the use of DEET, DEET, while it does work needs to be in 40% solutions minimum to be effective. At those concentrations DEET will melt plastic!

    The old time sulfur preventative is much more skin and pet friendly! If you are curious that certain areas in your yard have chigger populations just throw a few white paper plates down on the grass, for some reason they are super attracted to the color white and will show up in a minute or two, easily spotted against the white background! Hope this helps!

    Best Regards,

    Jerry

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  6. I should also add that chiggers do not bite you the minute they get on your skin, they will often wander around on your clothing or skin until the bite instinct hits them. If you take a shower as soon as you come in from outside this will very much lessen the chances of chigger bites and will very nearly always wash off ticks who have not had the chance to "Latch-On" good! Using these simple tactics I have cut wood in the Southern woods for nearly 30 years from daylight to dark and have had little trouble with chiggers or ticks even in infested areas.

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