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CHIGGERS! ~ Fun, Yet...Kinda Gross, Facts About This Itchy Pest of Summer ~
Life Cycle of the Harvest Mite
Frustratingly itchy, terribly aggravating, nasty little buggers.
It's that time of year again to get out the bug spray and fly swatters. Most people in the hot and humid or even just temperate weather countries know about common insects like mosquitoes and flies, and even the nasty little bloodsucking arachnid, the tick, but Im gonna talk about the chigger today...the worst little "sucker" of them all. Well, at least in MY book! They are the most aggravating, itchy little sh%ts during hot summer days. The hotter it is, the more active they get...and the more they feed on YOU!
BUSTING SOME COMMON MYTHS ABOUT CHIGGERS
Chiggers are not insects or "bugs." They actually belong to the arachnid family alongside spiders, scorpions and their close relative, the tick.
Chiggers are the larval stage of the adult Harvest Mite, which lives in the soil. Chiggers only have six legs, but the adult mite has eight.
They're sometimes also called the "Velvet" or "Red Mite," because when you have several of them clustered together, they're easier to see and they appear red in color.
During the larval stage, it is the only time that chiggers feed on the tissue of mammals for nourishment. The adult form of the Harvest Mite lives and feeds only in the soil.
Humans are not the intended target of the chigger, but they'll take what they can get. Animals, reptiles and birds are the intended targets. They don't itch from chiggers like we do.
Chiggers don't burrow under your skin as many believe (I was one of them). They actually inject a corrosive saliva into you upon first attaching themselves to you with short and delicate specialized mouth parts. This saliva has a powerful digestive enzyme that instantly liquifies your skin cells and tissue upon contact. Within a few hours of the initial bite, your skin reacts to the chiggers saliva by hardening the cells all around the saliva path which then creates a sort of "tube," called the "stylostome." It is through this tube of sorts that they drink your liquified tissue, kind of like us drinking a milkshake through a straw. They never actually drink your blood.
The part that makes you itchy is not the initial bite of the chigger. It's actually an allergic reaction humans have to the saliva that makes you itch for days after the chigger is gone...until your body either breaks down and absorbs the stylostome into your system OR you scratch so hard that it creates a deep sore and literally digs out the stylostome (NOT advised...although it really can't be helped).
It takes a chigger anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes (depending on any obstacles) to walk all the way around your whole body. You can kill them by washing them off with a soapy washcloth and a plain water rinse within 30 minutes of suspected contact with them. If you're outside for awhile and can't wash the chiggers off any time soon, use a damp or wet hand towel or washcloth to regularly wipe your arms and any other exposed skin down before they can bite you and create their stylostome.
They won't go under waistbands or sock bands like I used to think, but they'll stop right at them and create their little tube and go to work feeding on you.
The soft, tender skin of women and children are preferred by the chigger over the tougher skin of men, but men are not immune. Chiggers will seek out the softest areas of your skin, usually around the ankles, behind the knees, in the armpits and my fave, right in the crotch. Oh yea...that's a real inconspicuous place to scratch.
A fully engorged chigger actually turns from their original orange or light red color to pale yellow just before it detaches itself and falls to the ground, ready to live the second stage of it's life as a non-feeding nymph and then as an adult Harvest Mite. Up to four generations can be produced in one year. Yikes!
If a feeding chigger is knocked off before it's done with you by you scratching or showering, it will not be able to crawl back on you and re-attach itself to continue feeding. It will die.
Nail polish will not "suffocate" the chigger. By the time you are scratching the itchy chigger "bite," the chigger has already long been knocked off.
Immediately wash all the clothes you were wearing that day when you came into contact with chiggers to prevent them from crawling back on you when you put your work or "play" clothes back on the next day.
Chiggers hang out on the tops of grass blades and other high plants and things in their immediate space waiting for any unsuspecting passersby and are alerted to anything "new" in their domain by movement, and some even think by your scent, and will quickly crawl to you and then on you in a matter of just a few seconds to a few minutes.
The warmer it is, the more active chiggers are, especially in the beginning of summer when the new vegetation is lush and green. Cool temperatures will greatly slow them down or stop them from crawling on you altogether. It only takes a temperature of 42 degrees to kill them.
Chigger with a "stylostome" feeding tube embedded in your skin
Adult Harvest or "Velvet" Mite
Insect and Other Bites ~ First Aid Treatments
Chigger enhanced 1,500 times its normal size
Chiggers on the move!
Bug Repellent Towelettes
PREVENTATIVE MEASURES TO KEEP CHIGGERS OFF OF YOU
In the heat of summer, wearing sandals, tank tops and loose shorts are the best things to wear if you like feeding lots of chiggers. If you don't care to share your liquified tissue with any very hungry chiggers, then snug socks, tucked in pant legs, tucked in shirt, long, tight sleeves and a buttoned up high collar is the way to go. Of course, with it bein' stinkin' hot in the summer in most regions of the USA (lower 48), this is not desirable attire to wear, either.
So, whip out the bug spray, or my favorite, the more environmentally safe insecticide creams or towlettes, cuz those are your best defense against chiggers besides staying indoors all summer. Insecticides usually wear off in just a few hours, especially if you're sweaty, so you'll need to re-apply it if necessary.
There's also powdered sulpher, also called sublime sulpher or flowers of sulfer. Sprinkle it in your pant cuffs and around your socks and boots or shoes. You can also put it directly on your skin, but some people are allergic to it, so please test it on a small area of your skin before you go and douse yourself with it. Also, another drawback of using sulpher is that it stinks to high Heaven, especially when you sweat. You can usually find powdered sulpher at a pharmacy.
For me, I have also found that using stick deodorant around my ankles up to my calves, around my waistline, around my biceps where the sleeves start and around the bra line (especially under my breasts) helps keep the little boogers at bay, too. I use "Secret" for this...any scent. Every now and then one brave, hungry little chigger will somehow slip through my defense lines and find a soft spot to eat, but most of them don't bite me.
Also, keep your yard free of debris and weeds so there are less hiding spots and "waiting" spots for the chiggers to survive until they catch a ride and a free meal courtesy of you. Keep your lawn mowed short so it's less attractive to small animals, the intended targets for chiggers. Eventually, the chiggers in that area will either die out or move on, looking for a more desirable location to wait for their meal.
Insect Repellent Pump Sprays, Cream and Lotion
Classic chigger "Attacks!" None of these pictures are of anybody I know, but I've had more than my fair share of these bites.
My Own Home Remedies For After Bite Itchies
One of my faves is plain old rubbing alcohol. Even if the skin is already broken. For me, I'd much rather have it sting temporarily than have it itch incessantly!
My other fave is apple cider vinegar. It's another good one to temporarily take the itch away. Again, it may sting if the skin is already broken from scratching, but it's a welcome relief from the itching, plus it's a natural antiseptic.
Copyright 2011 by Diana Troth, Author, Editor and Publisher ~ All Rights Reserved