Itchy Chiggers! (008)
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Preventing Chigger Bites
by Kait Chapman, Extension Educator
With summer comes spending more time outdoors, and more time outdoors inevitably leads to more exposure to things that can make us itch – plants, mosquitos and chiggers to name a few. But what exactly is a chigger? Chances are, you’ve never actually seen one. Instead, you’ve probably discovered hours after spending some time outdoors you’re now covered in some uncomfortable and unbearably-itchy bites.
What Exactly is a Chigger?
Chiggers are immature or larval red harvest mites and are the only life stage of the mite that bites and feeds on people and animals alike. Larvae have six legs and can measure up to 1/100 of an inch in diameter, making them incredibly difficult to see with the naked eye. Adults are more recognizable due to their larger size and bright red color and feed on small insects and insect eggs. Females lay eggs on vegetation throughout the summer and overwinter as adults.
In Nebraska, chiggers are most active in June and July, but can persist throughout the summer. People can become exposed to chiggers nearly anywhere outdoors, whether it be strolling through tall grass in a park, gardening or simply enjoying some time in their yards. Chiggers locate their hosts by detecting carbon dioxide and climbing to higher places to attach themselves to the clothing or fur of their victims. They particularly prefer tight or constricted areas like waistlines, ankles, armpits and other areas of snug-fitted clothing.
Chiggers do not borrow into the skin. Instead, they crawl into the hair follicle and inject a salivary fluid to dissolve nearby cells – this is what makes their bites so itchy. Within a few hours, small, red welts begin to appear where the chigger bit. Itching tends to peak after 1-2 days of the initial bite, and sometimes persists for up to a week. Chiggers can remain on their hosts for 3-5 days unless removed. These mites are not known to transmit any diseases, however secondary infections may occur as a result of scratching.
If you are bitten by chiggers, over-the-counter treatments such as calamine lotion, hydrocortisone ointment or other non-prescription local anesthetics can reduce the itch.
Prevention and Management
As mentioned, because chiggers are impossible to spot, protection and avoidance is key. To protect yourself from chiggers and their bites, you should:
• Wear loose-fitting and protective clothing when possible.
• Avoid sitting or reclining on the ground while outdoors.
• Apply a repellent, such as DEET or a permethrin clothing spray. Many plant-based or natural repellents have not been tested for effectiveness against chiggers.
• After returning from a chigger-infested area, shower or bathe with hot water as soon as possible. Scrubbing your skin thoroughly dislodges any mites and prevents future bites.
• Remove and launder your clothing before re-wearing.
• Keep landscapes and lawns well-manicured.
Areas infested with chiggers can be treated with insecticides containing bifenthrin. Before applying any insecticide, you should always read and follow the label instructions and precautions.
For more information
Contact your physician for severe cases of chigger dermatitis or hypersensitivity to bites.
For local pest diagnostic services, including identification and control recommendations, please contact the Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County office.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line insect pest and wildlife educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office
Contact InformationUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County, 444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu