If you, or anyone you know, grew up in old Florida they can probably tell you stories of roaming the woods and coming home with red insect bites that itched like crazy. They weren’t from mosquitoes but from chiggers that hide in the long grass, weeds, and notoriously in the Spanish moss that hangs like a gray beard from oak trees.
Chigger bites look like little red welts. They can sometimes blister or develop some type of head on the top of the welt. Because chigger bites are extremely itchy, anyone who gets bit by a chigger will definitely notice them within hours of the bite. The bite itself is painless though.
Chiggers attach themselves to the skin, hair follicles, or pores by inserting their piercing mouthparts. When chiggers attach to humans, they are not usually noticed for some time. During feeding, they inject a fluid into the skin, which dissolves tissue. Chiggers feed by sucking up the liquefied tissues. They do not feed on blood. They specifically feed on partially digested skin cells and lymph broken down by their saliva. The human immune reaction to a bite prevents the chigger from obtaining adequate nourishment. They rarely survive long enough to complete a meal.
A skin rash of small, reddish welts may appear on the parts of the body that were exposed. The rash may stop where the underwear meets the legs. This is often a clue that the rash is due to chigger bites. Chiggers prefer to attach on parts of the body where clothing fits tightly or where the flesh is thin, tender, or wrinkled. For this reason, chiggers locate in such areas as the ankles, waistline, knees, or armpits. An infestation like that is called chigger dermatitis or trombiculosis. In other parts of the world, chiggers transmit scrub typhus; however, in Florida they are not known to transmit any human disease.
If you notice a chigger bite, the best thing to do is to take a soapy shower. This gets rid of any chiggers that might still be left on the skin. Sadly, time is the best healer of chigger bites, but you can use over-the-counter antiseptic and anti-itch creams or topical Benadryl to ease scratching and avoid an infection.
What are chiggers?
A chigger is the larvae of a mite in the Trombiculidae family and a cousin of the tick. Chiggers are microscopic parasites that need some type of host to develop into the adult mite. They live in grassy, moist areas and will usually attach to small animals or birds. Occasionally, the chigger will attach to a human host, but they do not live very long as humans aren’t good hosts. In fact, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals are preferred chigger hosts.
It’s not so easy to control chiggers, but we can minimize their comfortable habitat. Frequent mowing of lawns and clearing shrubs and weeds removes the protective cover that chiggers need to survive.
One tedious method of locating infested areas suggested by some professionals is to place a piece of black cardboard edgewise on the ground. If chiggers are present, they will climb to the top and congregate there. They will appear as tiny yellow or pink dots moving across cardboard. Obviously, if you try this method, you will want to wear protective clothing, or they will crawl right on you without you knowing!
If you want to attack chiggers yourself there are a variety of insecticidal products available such as synthetic pyrethroids or carbamates. However, you need to apply these chemicals cautiously and as directed on the label to avoid getting insecticides into nearby ponds and streams.
Fencing around you home may be an option to keep away the critters that host chiggers, but we all know snakes, squirrels and birds know no bounds. Keep trashcan lids secure to discourage unwanted wildlife – possums, racoons, and rats from roaming your premises, too. (always good advice!)
Chiggers sometimes invade structures and if they get in your home then you will want to call a professional pest service like Heath Pest Control. These infestations can be controlled with either surface or crack-and-crevice treatments of insecticides or space sprays and we’d be happy to help you.