When you’re walking your dog through a field, skipping rocks near a riverbank or even just in your yard and suddenly feel an itching sensation, it could be because of chiggers, which are also sometimes called grass mites. Within hours of being bitten, you will probably feel an intense itching sensation around the affected area. One thing that might be stopping you from scratching is the question that you can’t get out of your head: do chigger bites spread?
If you’ve spent enough time outside in warmer parts of the country, you’ve probably already fallen victim to chigger bites. These microscopic pests, which are red, orange, yellow and straw-colored, latch onto passing people and animals. The chigger larvae are what actually attach to your clothing and skin. Once these creatures become adults, they are referred to as mites.
When you pass through an area with chiggers, you could have a few that hitch a ride on your body. Once a chigger falls off, you will see reddish bumps and you may notice a bright red dot in the middle. Once the larvae find your skin, they make a tiny hole using their jaws. The chigger larvae will then inject you with saliva, which liquefies your cells, turning it into food.
The red dot you see is what’s left of the hole the chigger made in your skin. These bites often appear in clusters, mostly at or below your waist and often near the tops of your socks or around your waistband. Chiggers can feed for a few days at one spot, and since they are so small, we may not notice them.
Bites can take up to two weeks to heal. If the victim scratches the bite sites, they can become infected. The only good news about getting chigger bites is that they don’t spread to other parts of your body. Once the larvae finish feeding and fall from your body, you’ll just need to resist the urge to scratch and wait for the skin irritation, which often looks like a rash, to go away.
Chigger bites can also bug our dogs and cats. If your pet seems to be scratching more than normal, look for chiggers in your pet’s ears which resemble paprika because of the reddish color of these creatures. A veterinarian may recommend a series of pyrethrin-based baths or topical or injectable treatments to remove the chiggers from your pet’s fur and to relieve itching.
These tiny pests certainly leave us puzzled. Read on to learn the answers to other common questions about chiggers, including whether or not chiggers can infest your home, if chiggers can live in your bed and on your clothing, how long chiggers can live on our bodies and whether these pests can travel from person to person.
Can Chiggers Infest Your Home?
As we already mentioned, chiggers are the larvae of harvest mites, which are tiny arachnids that live in on the surface or just under the surface of the soil. These nasty little pests do not infest your home as some pests, including bed bugs, can. When chiggers lay their eggs, it’s usually in one spot, which is why you can have a whole cluster of bites in one outing. Each bite is from one chigger, and because multiple larvae can be on you at one time, you can go on a hike or camping with friends and get what seems like 100 chigger bites, while your friend has none. The eggs are typically laid on plant tips and other vegetation, where they can then attach to a host. Each female can lay up to 15 eggs each day.
Chigger larvae exhibit a questing response, which means that they will stand with their front legs outstretched so they can grab a person or animal. That response is triggered by movement, light sensitivity, temperature sensitivity and touch through signals sent by their hair-like sensory organs. Chiggers are active from spring through fall and prefer temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Typically, summers are when you are most likely to fall victim to a chigger bite. Once it freezes, the outdoors become chigger-free.
A chigger prefers damp vegetation in partial sun. You can usually find chiggers in fields and near creek or river beds. However, they can hitch a ride into your home on your clothing or your pets.
If you see that you’ve been bitten by chiggers, take the following steps to alleviate the discomfort associated with a bite:
- Remove the clothes you were wearing and wash them in hot water.
- Wash anything else you may have come into contact with, such as blankets or towels.
- Apply an over-the-counter topical antiseptic, as well as an anti-itch cream.
- Vacuum your whole house thoroughly.
- Wash your bedding in hot water.
- Wash your pet’s bedding in hot water.
- Bathe your pet in warm water with soap.
All of these steps will dislodge the chiggers and remove them from your home and pets. Since these pests don’t embed themselves in your skin, they will fall off after you complete those steps. If the chiggers began their meal and then got knocked off before completing it, then the chiggers will most likely die and not continue the life cycle rather than find a new host.
Can Chiggers Live in Your Bed?
Chiggers cannot live in your bed because these microscopic pests need a warm body to have their three-to-four-day meal so they can morph into a nymph and become adults. The adult mites spend their winter in the soil before laying eggs in the spring. The chigger larvae, which have three pairs of legs, climb onto vegetation so they can jump onto a host to feed. Sometimes, those hosts are pets. But scientists have found them on snakes, turtles, birds and a wide variety of animals. Humans are actually not their preferred host because they tend to be dislodged before they can finish the meal they need to morph.
Theoretically, if a chigger catches a ride on your pet and your pet jumps onto your bed before the chigger finds a place to latch onto to feed, then the chigger could be dislodged and fall onto your bed. Then it would look for a host to latch onto and begin its meal. However, this is very unlikely to happen and the chigger will actually live on you and not your bed as it gets the nourishment it needs to become a nymph.
If you are worried that you might have chiggers in your bed, you can wash your sheets in warm soapy water and spray your mattress with a bug spray to ease your fears.
The best way to control chiggers in your home is to prevent them from coming inside in the first place. There are a few things you can do to prevent chiggers from hanging out in your yard:
- Mow your lawn frequently. Chiggers do not prefer well-manicured lawns.
- Remove food and water sources. Reduce the amount of watering your yard if you can.
- Trim excess vegetation. Reduce chiggers’ natural habitat by keeping trees and shrubs trimmed.
- Consider applying treatment solutions outside. In serious cases, you may decide to treat your yard with pesticide. If you do so, make sure to follow instructions on the label or consult a pest professional to keep your family and pets safe.
How Long Do Chiggers Live on Clothing?
Chiggers can stay on your clothing for a few hours as they look for an opening to feed. Chigger larvae don’t actually need our blood to advance to the nymph stage. Instead, they put their mouthparts inside of a tube that extends beneath our skin to inject an enzyme which helps break down tissue into a substance the pest can ingest. If left undisturbed, a chigger will do this for a few days before detaching, so they will not just stay on your clothes indefinitely.
If you go for a hike or camping in an area where the vegetation isn’t maintained, consider wearing protective clothing to cover your skin and make it harder for a chigger to find and bite you. Tucking your pants into boots will help protect you from these pests. Take a shower when you get home from any potential chigger-infested area and wash your clothes in hot, soapy water to dislodge any chiggers you may have brought home with you.
To prevent chiggers from latching onto you in the first place, use a bug spray that contains DEET which repels them. Since chiggers are typically on lower vegetation, be sure to spray around from your knees down to your shoes.
How Long do Chiggers Live on the Human Body?
After the chigger larvae find your flesh and start to feast, they can stay on your skin for days. When they’ve had a complete meal, which takes three to four days, they fall off so they can transform into nymphs. The nymphs eat insect eggs and then grow into adults, which then lay eggs and start the whole life cycle over again. Chiggers usually live in clumps on leaves until they find a person or animal to latch onto.
These arachnid bites usually show up where clothes pinch, such as socks, waistbands and underwear. The areas where clothes touch your skin often provides protection for the chiggers so they are less likely to get knocked or brushed off your skin. These pests also look for delicate skin they can penetrate to feed, including behind your knees and under your arms. This can explain why children and women tend to get bitten more often than men.
Although some people suggest putting clear fingernail polish on chigger bites, there are more effective treatment methods. Once you notice the bites, take a hot shower to remove any chiggers which might still be on your body. Make sure all the chiggers are gone by scrubbing yourself with hot water and soap. You can then treat the bites with calamine lotion or another over-the-counter anti-itch medicine. If you have been scratching, using an antiseptic can help prevent infection.
Can Chiggers Spread from Person to Person?
Once a chigger starts the feeding process, it usually doesn’t start a meal on another person or animal. It simply dies.
When a chigger attaches itself to your clothes, it can crawl around for a little while looking for a delicate piece of skin to start its meal. Once the larvae find the perfect spot, it uses its clamp-like jaws called chelicerae to pierce the skin. The reason chigger bites itch so much is two-fold. First, many of us have an allergic reaction to the chigger’s saliva. In some people, that reaction is more severe and manifests as large sores and hives. However, most people simply see smaller red bumps.
Chiggers Have No Chance With ABC
If you suspect your yard has chiggers, the professionals at ABC Home & Commercial Services can conduct an inspection and recommend a treatment plan. Our experts can also help make your yard less inviting for chiggers and other common lawn pests. With ABC’s help, you can enjoy your outdoor spaces without having to worry about pesky pests.