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Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chiggers: fact and fiction

Tiny mite produces massive itching

August 21, 2008

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I wish I had some revolutionary news to share with you regarding chiggers. Unfortunately, as I sit here itching, the best thing I can do is dispel some of the myths regarding the pesky little creatures.

Chiggers are not insects; they are mites, meaning they are related to spiders and scorpions. Chiggers do not burrow under your skin, and they do not suck your blood. They do pierce your skin with their mouth and produce an enzyme in their saliva that dissolves nearby skin cells. The tissue around this "bite" hardens into a tube similar to a straw, allowing the chigger to suck up now liquefied skin cells.

Feeding (or drinking) can continue for three to four days, but chiggers are often scratched from the skin once the itching starts. After chiggers are dislodged, the straw and saliva that trigger the itching remain until your body can dissolve the straw and repair the damaged skin cells.

The good news about the feeding cycle of chiggers is that you can save your nail polish for your fingers and toes. If you really want to paint all of those bites, the polish probably will not hurt anything, but it does not smother the mites as I often hear.

Other home remedies, such as bathing in bleach, alcohol and various other substances are a little more risky and are not recommended. A hot, soapy shower works well to wash chiggers from the skin.

Chigger larvae (the only life stage that causes the bites) are large enough to see with the naked eye. If you are looking for them, they are about 1/150 inch long. The mites are easiest to see on your skin after you start itching, and they generally look like a tiny black dot in the middle of the itchy spot.

Adults are slightly larger and are sometimes seen moving across the ground in the first warm days of the year. They are bright red, hence the nickname "red bugs." The adults lay eggs in the soil early in the spring before they die and are not parasitic. Larvae hatch and are active from May until the first killing frost in the fall.

Keeping your lawn mowed will reduce the number of chiggers that live in it. The mites prefer shade and move to areas with tall grass, weeds, low-growing shrubs, etc. They often congregate when they find a favorable site, which sometimes explains why you get loaded with bites but your friend who sits 10 feet away in the grass has none.

Many researchers say that avoiding chigger-infested areas is the best way to prevent bites. More realistically, you can use insect repellents (re-apply every two to three hours to maintain effectiveness), permethrin-soaked clothing (availability is increasing at sporting goods and outdoor-clothing shops), or sulfur dust. The smell of sulfur may make that option less desirable, but yes, it works.

To ease the itching, use an antihistamine like benadryl. Calamine lotion, Vaseline and baby oil can help, or you can try using a sunscreen with benzocaine.

You can spray an insecticide on your lawn to kill chiggers, but this practice is not recommended. To be effective, the insecticide would have to be re-applied very often - some products require re-application every two-three days. That gets expensive in a hurry and can kill many other insects (like bees and butterflies).

If you have questions about chigger control or other garden problems, call the Garden Hotline at 843-7058 or e-mail dgemg@sunflower.com. Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners run the hot line from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

- Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension AgentHorticulture for K-State Research & Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or <a href="mailto:smithjen@ksu.edu">smithjen@ksu.edu</a>.

Comments

RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years, 8 months ago

autie, Naw, I get out in the tall grass.It's not the chiggers that bother me, it's those damn punk copperheads.

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drake 5 years, 8 months ago

I was in Michigan one time talking with some friends at a bar and said something about chiggers. I was lucky to get out of there w/ my life. I guess they don't have them up there.

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autie 5 years, 8 months ago

Could it be that a diet of strickly red meat and copious amounts of alcohol impart an inability to get out of the chair and be in the tall grass? I believe that is the case at my house.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years, 8 months ago

A diet of strictly red meat and copious amounts of alcohol seems to impart an immunity to chiggers.

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coolmom 5 years, 8 months ago

we moved from lawrence to n. cali and one of the first days we were at the park and my then 4 and 5 year olds were rolling down a hill while i yelled "stop that before you get chiggers" after several minutes of this while they giggled madly and my 8 plus pregnant bulk tried to intervene a woman came over and said " um, excuse me whats a chigger?" when i told her she looked horrified and said i dont think we have those here lol. what do you know there was at least one positive.

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BrianR 5 years, 8 months ago

Autie, That is so true. Why can't they just bite ankles?

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BrianR 5 years, 8 months ago

Fact: I hates the chiggers.

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gr 5 years, 8 months ago

"and they generally look like a tiny black dot in the middle of the itchy spot."How about, red."The adults lay eggs in the soil early in the spring before they die and are not parasitic."day: "What purpose do those things serve in the ecosystem? None?"Do ya suppose there may be other growth stages in which they do different things?

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autie 5 years, 8 months ago

Those little diablos have had a wonderful year..plently of moisture and enough heat. Down here where I am, not a usual August to have over six inches of precip..and the month is not done yet. Grass and weeds growing like mad makes for the perfect storm..Ususally after mid July and the foliage begins to burn up and dry, those little bastards mellow out some..not this year.

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SpeedRacer 5 years, 8 months ago

Is it just me or have chiggers been active a little longer than normal this year? I have had perperual bites since June in places I can't scratch in public.

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autie 5 years, 8 months ago

My best advice to all those kids out there..never, ever take your girlfriend out into the pasture at night with a banket and get all romantic under the stars..in regard to these little creatures, BAD idea. I thought I was going to die..once, a long, long time ago.

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onlymee 5 years, 8 months ago

where i came from we didnt have them, i moved here to the country and wow what a wake up call,yes, bleach and washcloth comes in handy,lol,also a friend showed me to make a paste with meat tenderizer and water and it does work better then the polish, chiggerx and all the other crap,i havent tried the jr stuff,

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logrithmic 5 years, 8 months ago

Absorbine Jr. works wonders against the itching.

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tumbilweed 5 years, 8 months ago

O daytrader I thought you were talking about humans.What purpose do we serve in the ecosystem?

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75x55 5 years, 8 months ago

What, no heebie-jeebie extreme macro photograph? "You can spray an insecticide on your lawn to kill chiggers, but this practice is not recommended. "Until you've had over 200+ bites at any one time in your life, then any cost is 'just fine'.

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Multidisciplinary 5 years, 8 months ago

"They do pierce your skin with their mouth and produce an enzyme in their saliva that dissolves nearby skin cells. The tissue around this "bite" hardens into a tube similar to a straw, allowing the chigger to suck up now liquefied skin cells."--Thanks for the wake-up-hurl Jen!;)

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Daytrader23 5 years, 8 months ago

The most God forsaken living creature on the face of planet earth. I hate those things. However it has been a few years since my last bite. But I do remember one time I had over 80 bites on one leg and was half tempted to saw my leg off. What purpose do those things serve in the ecosystem? None? Then nuke them.

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