How To Get Rid of Chiggers

Avoid these pesky red bugs and prevent them from biting in the summer.


| June/July 2005


It’s summer again, the season when chiggers make cowards of us all. Wouldn’t it be great to skip through fields of wildflowers and roll around in cool grass like the people in allergy medicine commercials do? Anyone that reckless either doesn’t get out much or is too young to know better. Call the rest of us “once bitten, twice shy” because meadows and lush grass often are guarded by chiggers — tiny “red bugs” that leave small and terribly itchy wounds on human hosts in the most delicate and unmentionable places.

Ounce for ounce, the almost-microscopic chigger may cause more irritation than any other critter. Yet contrary to popular belief, chiggers don’t suck blood or burrow under the skin. They eat skin cells, which they dissolve with digestive enzymes. The human immune system defends bitten areas by forming a hard wall of cells, called a stylostome. Conveniently for the chigger, these stylostomes double as strawlike feeding tubes. And there’s the rub — and the scratch — it’s your own immune system’s response that causes the intense itching.

Undercover Chiggers

Chiggers are not true insects — they actually are immature mites — though they do scamper around on six legs in their troublesome larval stage. Like their parasitic tick cousins, chigger larvae attach themselves to hosts to feed by inserting minute mouthparts into skin, usually at hair follicles. Chiggers are found worldwide. In the United States, they are most common in the Southeast and Midwest because they thrive in humid weather amid thick vegetation.

Science seldom turns its microscope on chiggers because, as annoying as they may be, chiggers don’t destroy crops or otherwise cause catastrophes worthy of big research bucks. But the U.S. Army considers chiggers enemies well worth studying. Servicemen in World War II never knew they had been bitten until they came down with scrub typhus, a disease covertly spread by tropical Asian chiggers that causes fever, headaches and swollen lymph glands. Bill Wildman, an environmental health officer at Irwin Army Community Hospital in Fort Riley, Kan., notes the species found in North America do not spread diseases.

Humans are accidental victims of chiggers because most of these mites evolved to feed on reptiles and birds, says M. Lee Goff, curator of the National Chigger Collection, housed at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He and his predecessors have accumulated about 25,000 specimens representing 1,800 identified chigger species. Goff, who also is the forensics science program chairman at Chaminade University in Hawaii, says chigger species in Southeast Asia evolved to feed on mammals and can spread disease because the human immune system does not reject their enzymes and the chigger bites don’t itch.

Goff may be one of the few humans on the planet to admit affection for the pests. “They are actually very attractive little mites. They have a velvety appearance,” he says. But chiggers in a lab are much safer than chiggers around your child’s swing. Fortunately, you can do several things to take much of the chigger itch out of summer.

Briseis
6/27/2016 10:07:17 AM

Dressing like a geek is definitely a safe way to avoid being bitten by chiggers. However, more is involved. One needs to be very careful as they remove those apparels. They could easily bring them in the home with them. Natural organic pesticides can also be used control their numbers. The link attached to this comment highlights a few other pointers that can be used to control the chigger population. http://www.onlinepestcontrol.com/get-rid-of-chiggers/


Kirbukas
11/3/2015 1:01:34 PM

First time every heard about chiggers. Thanks for opening my eyes! Usually,when pest related,i search from www.peststart.com ,but mothereathnews.com is even better. thanks!


ozarkat
9/12/2015 12:57:09 PM

I am also in Arkansas. Never dealt with chiggars in California. I bought some stuff in Walmart called chiggarid, about $4 for a small container. Then I realized it smelled similiar to the Muscle Rub (Equate brand) Walmart sells. It had a higher concentration of the same active ingredients and costs half as much for about twice as much. Anyway, take the muscle rub and rub it on your lower legs and feet (if you wear flip flops like I do) and they will leave you alone. I would not do this excessively or on a daily basis as I have heard about such creams related to a death in NY. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/10/nyregion/10cream.html?_r=0)






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