Latin Name: Trombiculidae
Chiggers are very small red mites that bite and cause intense irritation and itching. The larval stage of the chigger feeds on skin cells from all kinds of animals, including humans. After they latch on to their host, they inject the host with digestive enzymes in order to break down the skin. The enzyme creates a small hole in the skin, called a stylostome, and allows the chigger to feed on the inner part of the skin. This causes irritation and swelling. They do not dig into the skin or suck blood, nor do they lay eggs under the skin as commonly believed.
Small pimple-like bumps, lesions, hives, or rashes are accompanied by severe itching, though the itching may not develop until 1 to 2 days after the bite. After the chigger detaches from the skin, they drop to the ground and mature into adults. In the later stages they are harmless to humans and other animals. After the larval stage, chiggers feed off of plant material and do not eat skin.
Chiggers are very small, nearly microscopic at about 1/60 of an inch. They are bright reddish orange, covered in hair, and move quickly for their size. At the larval stage chiggers only have six legs, but later stages have eight legs.
A chigger’s lifecycle normally lasts between 2 and 12 months. The weather and climate of the region determine how many cycles can occur during a year. Temperate regions may only have three cycles per year while warmer regions could have many different cycles continuously.
Chiggers prefer to live in forests and grasslands with plenty of vegetation and are plentiful in the early summer when there is the most grass or other vegetation. However, they can also live in drier places where there is less vegetation. During dry seasons or in dry locations, chiggers can be found under brush or in shady areas.
There are several different things you can do to avoid being attacked by chiggers:
- Wear clothing treated with insect repellent when venturing into the woods or other chigger habitats.
- When hiking, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to minimize your exposed skin.
- Be mindful that chiggers can also infest dogs, cats, and other pets.
Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, if you go into a chigger infested area, you may have been exposed to chiggers. You can do several things to prevent the situation from getting worse:
- Wash all of your clothes in hot soapy water.
- Take a hot bath or shower and use soap to get as clean as possible.
Even if the chiggers have fallen off, you will still have the stylostomes, which cause the severe itch. Scratching the itchy spots can cause bacterial infection, so try to avoid scratching. For temporary relief of itching, you can use ointments as recommended by your pharmacist or medical doctor.
Chigger bites are actually enzymatic, so the resulting damage comes from allergy and immune responses, physical damage, and bacterial infections. Since the bite has multiple facets, each of the facets need to be addressed as necessary, making caring for the bite unique to each person.
Experiencing symptoms from chigger bites is the most common way of telling if you have an infestation. You can also tell you have an infestation if you notice adult chiggers, though they are very small and difficult to see. The best way to prevent chiggers on your property is to keep your grass cut and to minimize excess vegetation.