Common chiggers, also known as berry bugs, harvest mites, “jiggers” and “redbugs,” are tiny pests whose size don’t match the amount of torment they can cause humans. Chiggers attach themselves to tender skin areas to feed. The bites can cause intense itching and small reddish welts. Chiggers in Texas can be a big pain for families who enjoy spending time outside.
Getting to Know Chiggers
Because chiggers are so small, they are hard to avoid. Most people cannot see these minuscule creatures without a magnifying glass, and so the bites may be the only indication that the bugs have infested a certain area.
How to Identify Chiggers
In the larval stage, chiggers are orange, yellow or light red. They are less than 1/150 of an inch in diameter, with hairy bodies. Larvae have six legs and their mouthparts include two pairs of grasping palps with forked claws. The nymphs and adults have eight legs. In the adult stage, a chigger is hairy, about 1/20 of an inch long and usually brilliant red. The front part of their bodies are noticeably smaller than the back.
Biology and Habits
Chiggers are more related to ticks, scorpions and spiders than insects. Two species of chiggers are most common in Texas: Eutrombicula alfreddugesi and Eutrombicula splendens. Adult chiggers pass the winter in protected places and become active in the spring. The young chigger or larva, which hatches from eggs deposited earlier in the spring, is the real troublemaker. It is in this stage that the animal is a parasite that feeds on man and animals. After feeding for several days, the larva detaches and finds a protected place on the ground where it develops into an adult. Under favorable conditions, most chigger species complete their development in 40 to 70 days and produce one to four generations each year in places like Texas.
Chiggers are active from spring to late fall in most parts of Texas, but are most numerous in early summer when weeds, grasses and undergrowth are the heaviest. Nymphs and adults feed on insect eggs, small insects and other organisms found on or near decaying wood. Larval chiggers congregate in shaded niches near the tips of grass leaves, weeds, sticks and other objects close to the ground. They are activated upon the approach of a suitable host, probably by odor, carbon dioxide output and other biological stimulating factors and crawl onto the host for feeding.
The tiny, bright red larval chigger can scarcely be seen as it scurries along the skin surface seeking an attachment site. When it finds a suitable location, such as a skin pore or hair follicle, it attaches its mouthparts to the spot. On people, the chigger prefers places where clothing fits closely over the skin or where the flesh is thin or wrinkled. Usually you’ll notice bites near your sock lines around your ankles or around your waist and near your groin. Sometimes you can find bites in other areas, such as behind the knee and in your armpit.
Contrary to common belief, a chigger does not penetrate and burrow into the skin or suck blood. Instead, it injects a digestive fluid that disintegrates skin cells so they can be used as food. A feeding “tube” formed by the chigger secretion and skin cells of the host permits the chigger to extract food until it is engorged. After leaving the host, it undergoes further development on the ground.
Affected skin tissue becomes red and swollen. It may completely envelop the feeding chigger, making the chigger appear to be burrowing into the skin. Chigger bites have a more severe effect on some people than others. The bite itches intensely and may continue itching for several days after the chigger is killed or drops off.
How to Protect Yourself from Chiggers
Several commercially available repellents are effective against chigger infestations. These repellents usually contain one or more of the following compounds: permethrin, diethyl toluamide, dimethyl phthalate, dimethyl carbate, ethyl hexanediol and benzyl benzoate. Most mosquito repellents are also effective against chiggers and other biting insects. They are formulated as liquids, aerosol sprays, solid sticks and ointments. Common dusting sulfur, although somewhat messy and odorous, is also a very effective repellent.
Repellents should be used according to instructions. Usually, they provide protection from chiggers for several hours. For protection which lasts several days, saturate clothing by soaking or spraying it with a repellent solution. For further prevention, wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid sitting or reclining on the ground when camping, picnicking or working outdoors.
How To Treat Chigger Bites
Immediately after exposure to chigger-infested areas, take a hot bath or shower, which can help kill and remove chigger larvae. Then apply an antiseptic solution to any welts that have appeared to kill trapped chiggers and to prevent infection. Destroying the chigger usually does not stop the itching completely because the itching is caused by tissue reaction to the fluid injected by the chigger. Normally, two to three days pass before the itching stops.
How to Control Chiggers
Control of chiggers in large parks, recreation areas or campgrounds is impractical. Personal protection with repellents when visiting such areas is the best means of reducing chigger bites. Chiggers sometimes become a problem in home lawns, particularly those with Bermuda grass. If your grass becomes infested with chiggers, chemical control may be desirable.
ABC Can Solve Your Pest Problems
Dealing with chigger bites is an unfortunate part of living in parts of the country like Texas where chiggers live. Although you are more likely to get chigger bites when out hiking or camping, you may encounter these pests in yards, especially in suburban areas. If you are wondering if you have chiggers, or need some help controlling any other common lawn pests, ABC can help. Our pest control experts can quickly identify the source of your problem and start working on a treatment plan so you can get back to enjoying your outdoor spaces again.