What are chiggers?
Chiggers are not actually insects as many people believe. They are the larvae form of a mite family, which is technically an arachnid. Chiggers are found all over the world and usually live in forest, grassy areas and parks. Chiggers are extremely small and very difficult to see with the human eye. With lengths up to 1/150th of an inch long, you can usually only see them after they have fed and are full of blood.
To view a chigger, a magnifying glass is needed. If one looks closely, juvenile larvae have 6 legs while the adult chiggers have a full 8. A fun fact is that some people commonly misspell the mite “chiggar” instead of the correct spelling “chigger”. Another fun fact is that these bugs only ever feed during the larval stage of growth. The adult chigger only feeds on microorganisms in the soil. Reptiles, birds, and a few other animals don’t seem to be affected with the itchy bite problem like humans do. There are over 1,800 species of these mites, of which can spread disease and cause open sores from itching.
Let’s dig into the way that a chigger bites its hosts, because there is a lot of confusion on this process. Some assume that they burrow down into your skin and stay there until they are done. A common method at getting rid of chigger bites is to cover the bite in nail polish to suffocate the chigger. This method doesn’t work because by the time your arm starts itching, the chigger has already taken it’s bite and left.
What do chiggers eat?
See, what they actually do is insert a needle-like feeding structure into your skin. Then they inject a special enzyme that does two things. This enzyme first numbs your skin so you don’t feel the pain and kill the chigger. It also starts destroying the tissue of the host it is eating. Hardening and reddening of the skin around the bite reacts because humans are allergic to this enzyme. The chigger larvae then feed on the dead tissue as it is easier to digest. If chiggers are undisturbed, they will continue to feed for several days, but this rarely happens because we eventually get the itching sensation and either kill or swipe off the chigger.
Chiggers generally bite around soft and wrinkly skin such as your ankles, crotch and under your arms. They especially like to feed near the armpits and inner thighs, just as ticks do. Itching is the first and most common symptom of chigger bites, but there are more serious side effects. Swelling, and a strange bump quite different than a mosquito bite may occur. If there are multiple bites(which is common if one has been in fields), then it may be confused as eczema or another allergic reaction.
A simple home remedy for chigger bites is to take a cool shower or bath. Another home remedy that works great is to use bath products that contain colloidal oatmeal. There are many OTC medicines available for the sole reason of reducing swelling and the itching sensation. Calamine lotion and oral antihistamines are generally prescribed. Chigger bites are usually not much of a problem because they rarely spread disease or cause any major allergic reactions. However, the itching and scratching associated with a bug bite is enough to break open the skin enough to invite infection in. Keep yourself safe and don’t scratch at these annoying chigger bites.
I find that the best natural way to cure itchy chigger bites is to simply take some ibuprofen or Tylenol and then take a short nap. If done correctly, when you wake, the bite area inflammation should be reduces and the urge to scratch will be greatly reduced.
Just like preventing mosquito bites, wearing adequate and full covering clothes can prevent chigger bites. You will rarely find chiggers below 70 degrees F and above 100 degrees F as these temperatures are out of their comfortable range. Chiggers also require high humidity environments and will stay close to the ground. If you have been outside near any place that you think may have contained chiggers, bring your clothes inside and wash them as soon as possible with soap and hot water. This will kill all the remaining chiggers on your clothes that are still looking for some food!
How can I get rid of chiggers?
The first step you can take to getting rid of chiggers is to mow your lawn and keep it cut short for the rest of the summer. Long grass is the most desirable place for a chigger to live, and if you keep your grass cut, you will remove their home. Keeping your grass cut low will also get rid of animals such as toads and mice that chiggers feed on. Keep the habitat in your backyard in perfect condition and your land value will go too!
Keep the lids on your trash can and discourage animals from creeping around your house. Raccoon, Opossums, and stray dogs will be attracted to your house if there is trash in the open. Even squirrels will try to get into it. Your trash needs to be safe and stored away to help reduce the number of chiggers in your yard. Keeping your trash contained is vital to reducing the total population of these pesky bugs. Consider tying up your trash bags in double knots and purchasing a trash can with a heavy lid.
Some people are afraid of chiggers that live inside your house, which is possible. However, you are much more likely to find other mites since chiggers like to thrive in outside environments. To eliminate other mite species in your house, you may have to contact an exterminator or read tips on other species.
Consider purchasing some diatomaceous earth. This is a natural chigger repellent that consists of basically tiny fossilized creatures. Diatomaceous earth is a white powder that looks like salt or sugar to many people. Just take some of this stuff and sprinkle it around your trees and yard to ward off chiggers and mosquitoes and other pesky insects. Make sure to get the areas with high humidity extra good!
If you know you are going to be walking around areas with tall grass, you should be proactive and wear long pants or jeans to prevent chigger bites. Stay away from unmowed yards and tall brush as well as environments with high humidity. This is where chiggers thrive and are most likely to be. Keep your skin covered by wearing boots, a long sleeve shirt, and a jacket if needed. If possible, wear tightly-woven and think clothing as this will prevent them from crawling around your skin. Some have noticed that wearing a belt prevents chiggers from biting below the waist. Chiggers can live a couple hours inside your clothing before they find a way out or suffocating with sweat.
If you have been walking in a chigger-dense area and want to keep your shoes clean, sprinkle some sulfur powder into your shoes and on your socks. Some strong odors, as they do with humans, smell terrible to chiggers and will drive them away. Although sulfur powder will make your shoes smell terrible, it will clear them of chiggers, fleas, mites, and lice. Another solution is to put them in the dryer for 20 minutes on high heat. Simply throwing them in the dryer for a couple minute will kill any chiggers on your clothes and warm them up so they will be comfortable when you put them back on.
You can get rid of chigger bites by avoiding laying on the ground. Chiggers rarely hang around low grass, but even then they can be found. Respectively, tall grass should be avoided at all costs. Brush your skin every 30 minutes to remove invisible chiggers. Remember that you can’t see chiggers because they are so small until after they have feed and it’s too late. Brush them off with a brush or rag.
There are many chigger repellents on the market that contain DEET. For those who do not know, DEET (diethyltoluamide) is one of the most effective insect repelling compounds to date. Generally in an aerosol spray, this compound works for up to 3 hours. Be careful though, do not spray around eyes or on toddlers as it may cause irritation. Another chigger repellent is permethrin, which is actually a slight neurotoxin and is commonly used as pest control on cotton, wheat, and alfalfa. They are very useful to mites and can last for several days if sprayed on clothes. Read and follow the directions on the label very carefully. Here are some other common insecticides:
- Diazinon bifenthrin
If you have followed all of these techniques and are still having chigger problems, consider calling a professional exterminator. They have the proper training, experience, and tons of useful tools to deal with these. Paying an exterminator a couple times in your lifetime may be worth the mental stress and money to get rid of these biting mites.