Chiggers are tiny, red insects in the arachnid group of insects. Chiggers are too small to be seen with the naked eye and require a magnifying glass to be recognized. Chigger mites, harvest mites, and harvest lice are all common names for this small insect. But how to get rid of chigger bites?
Chigger larvae cause bites, and after hatching, the larvae quickly disperse to nearby vegetation in search of prey. They attach themselves to their host with their claws, puncture the skin with their feeding tube, and inject the host with digestive enzymes to liquefy the skin cells.
After consuming digested skin cells, chiggers leave the host and transition into eight-legged nymphs to complete the larval stage. They continue to eat vegetation until they are fully grown chiggers.
The six-legged, fast-moving larvae that hatch from the chigger mite eggs climb onto vegetation to hunt prey. The mite larvae attach their claws tightly to their victims, piercing their host’s skin and injecting their saliva, which liquefies the host’s skin cells.
After feeding on their hosts’ skin cells, the larvae drop off and transform into the eight-legged nymph stage, and finally the eight-legged adult chigger mite. Chigger larvae prey on many animals, including cats, dogs, reptiles, birds, and people. A chigger usually finishes its meal on a human host in four days.
What is a Chigger?
Image Source: Prevention.com
Chiggers are tiny larvae of the arachnid family who are sometimes known as red bugs. Despite their diminutive size, their bites pack a powerful punch. They’re so tiny that you probably won’t notice them when they leap off that tall blade of grass onto your skin, and you won’t even notice them when they crash into your home. When you eventually feel them, they can be incredibly itchy.
Chigger bites are caused by mite larvae, which are usually red in color and are very tiny, less than one percent of an inch in length. Most can not be seen with the naked eye. Adult chigger mites measure one-twentieth an inch in length, so they are visible, but they don’t feed on humans.
Chigger mites belong to the genus Eutrombicula and are arachnids, like spiders and ticks (there are thousands of other species of mites, some of which feed exclusively on vegetation).
Where Do Chiggers Live?
Chiggers most frequently bite in areas of thin skin such as wrinkles and folds, so they are common in the crotch and groin areas, the armpits, and the folds behind the knees. Chiggers also bite the ankles, and clothing which prevents their migration is commonly compressed (such as belts).
A popular misconception about chiggers is that they burrow into the skin and remain there, but this is incorrect. When a chigger bites, it injects its feeding and mouthparts into the skin. They inject enzymes into the host skin that destroy the host tissue, and the bite is followed by a feeding tube called a cyclostome. Through this structure, chiggers can live on the skin for a few days if they are not disturbed.
Chiggers prefer thick vegetation and shaded areas. They are most often found in grassland, woodlands, swamps, and thickets. They tend to accumulate at the base of tall grasses in waiting for a passing animal or person.
Chiggers like warm, humid conditions, so their active season depends on where you live. In Minnesota, they may only be active in late spring and early summer, while in Florida, chiggers may be present all year round.
How To Kill Chiggers?
Spring, summer, and fall are the worst times for chigger bites, so try not to brush against vegetation when you’re in wooded areas that may be chigger infested. Walk in the center of the trail, rather than along the sides, and wear long sleeves and long pants that can be tucked into socks or shoes when hiking.
For all mosquitoes and ticks, use insect or tick repellent on your shoes’ tops, shirt neck, cuffs, and waistband, and take a shower as soon as you enter the home. Launder your clothes in hot water.
1. From Home
Chiggers prefer thick vegetation and shaded places; they are most frequently found in grassy areas, woodlands, swamps, and thickets. They usually assemble at the base of tall grasses in readiness for a passing animal or person. Chiggers live in warm, humid conditions, so the season may vary depending on where you live. In Minnesota, they may only be active between late spring and early summer, while in Florida, chiggers can be found all year long.
2. From Yard
There are several preventive measures that you can take to prevent a chigger infestation in your yard, and they are:
- Rash grassy areas and pull weeds: Disrupting chiggers’ preferred habitats is the best pest control measure for eradicating them from your yard. This involves pulling weeds from the landscape and mowing tall grassy areas.
- Apply an organic pesticide: Chiggers can be killed by a broadcast application of an organic pesticide, such as diatomaceous earth. Applications of diatomaceous earth on hotspots in your yard or around the perimeter of your yard are recommended, followed by watering the treated areas to release the active ingredients.
- Avoid common host animals: Chiggers are common hosts of squirrels, chipmunks, and other small mammals. If you have an abundance of these animals in your yard, consider seeking ways to control them. Building a fence, removing ponds or water features, putting down bird feeders, and locking trash cans can all help keep these animals away from your property.
What Does A Chigger Bite Look Like?
Chiggers are tiny red stinging mites that don’t hurt but can cause intense itching. Chiggers are members of the arachnid family (the same family that includes spiders and ticks) and are much smaller than a period at the end of a sentence.
It can be found throughout the outdoors, including grassy fields, lakes and streams, and forests. They can only be seen under a magnifying glass. People and animals are bit by the baby chiggers.
After hatching, baby chiggers wait on plants for people or animals to pass by, at which point they attach themselves to them with tiny claws. Once attached, it penetrates the skin and injects its saliva (spit) which contains digestive juices that dissolve skin cells.
Image Source: Healthline
The chigger then eats the dissolved cells, which provide the protein it needs to mature into an adult, and then falls off of the skin after a few days, leaving behind a red bump.
Chigger bites are itchy red bumps that can look like pimples, blisters, or small hives and are most commonly found at the waist, ankles, or in warm skin folds. Over a few days, they become bigger and itchier and frequently appear in groups.
Illustration Chigger bites begin to itch within hours of the chigger being attached to the skin. The itching subsides after a few days, and the red bumps heal over 1–2 weeks. Chigger bites on the penis can cause swelling, itching, and painful peeing. This is known as “summer penile syndrome”.
Symptoms Of Chigger Bites
Most commonly, several chiggers can cling to a person walking through an infected area, leaving behind reddish bumps when the chigger falls off. In the center, a bright red dot could be seen; it is a remnant of the tube your skin formed as a result of the chigger’s saliva. The bumps may look like welts, blisters, pimples, or hives.
Chiggers can remain attracted to the same spot for several days, and it is common to be bitten by more than one, so bites will often occur in groups and grow over several days to a week.
Chiggers love to bite skin that’s easy to get to, as well as places where clothing is tight. The most common site for chigger bites is the ankle, waist, armpit, crotch, or behind the knees. It will not hurt when the chigger latches on, and it will probably not hurt when it bites, but most people report feeling symptoms within hours of the bite.
Chigger bites can cause severe itching, swelling, and painful urination, with the intense itching and desire to scratch being the most common symptoms.
How To Get Rid Of Chigger Bites?
When you spend time outdoors in grassy areas, use an insect repellent that contains DEET or wear clothing treated with an insecticide like permethrin. Pay attention to places where chiggers could transfer from clothing to skin, such as collars, necklines, and the top edges of socks, as you apply bug spray.
Some studies show that natural sprays may help to keep chiggers away: try sprays that have citronella, tea tree, jojoba, eucalyptus, geranium, or lemongrass as their oils. Also, don’t make yourself easy prey for hungry chiggers: wear long sleeves and long pants, with pants legs wrapped in long socks.
Itching is one of the most common symptoms of chigger bites, and treatment aims to relieve it, to reduce the risk of secondary bacterial infections due to scratching, which can weaken the skin barrier to infection.
- Calamine lotion and corticosteroid creams may be useful in relieving the itching of chigger bites.
- In some cases, no treatment is needed, but oral antihistamine medications such as Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can be very effective.
However, if you plan to spend more time in a potentially chigger-infested area, then you should take these preventative measures to avoid bug bites, and they are:
- Chiggers like to hang around human skin, so wear long sleeves, long pants, and tall socks. To prevent being bitten, cover exposed skin, and tuck your pant legs into your socks for extra protection.
- Before entering chigger hotspots, apply an insect repellent containing DEET. This small pest can also be repelled using a mixture of essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and citronella diluted with water. Apply bug spray to exposed skin and the places that chiggers are most attracted to, such as the elbows, knees, ankles, armpits, and groin.
- As an article of protective clothing, wear chigger repellent clothing treated with an insecticide, such as permethrin, which can help to prevent chiggers and mosquito bites.
- At all times when hiking or biking in potentially infested areas, stay on the paths and avoid walking through dense vegetation.
Though some guides recommend coating chigger bites with nail polish, this is not a good way to treat chigger bites. Once the welts appear on your skin, the mites are likely no longer present, so covering them with nail polish is useless. Instead, consider these simple strategies and home remedies.
- Immediately after finding chigger bites, thoroughly wash the area with hot, soapy water. Any remaining larvae on the skin can be killed by taking a hot shower.
- Antihistamine ointments such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can ease itchy blisters caused by chigger bites.
However, one of the major effective treatments for chigger bites is anti-itch creams and medications. Home remedies to relieve itchings, includes
- Cool bath or shower
- colloidal oatmeal baths, or
- Cool compresses may bring some relief.
Chiggers usually form in groups and stay on your body for hours or days until you wash or scratch them off. You may feel them on your skin, but because of their microscopic size, you cannot see them. Upon return from outdoor activity, washing your clothes with soap and water can remove any chiggers. That may be migrating on the skin and prevent their bites, and washing clothing worn outdoors in hot water will kill any chiggers left on the clothes.