For Release June 4, 2002

Chiggers: A "Mite"y Big Problem

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Personally, I find mosquitoes to be a minor nuisance and rather ho-hum. Ticks are a novelty that soon fades and I have trouble getting too excited about them. Use personal protection and check yourself over well and you can usually avoid problems. But chiggers are another matter! Chiggers love to make a meal out of me. And the itching that they cause me is enough to drive me crazy some years. In short, I despise chiggers!

From a biological point of view, chiggers are quite fascinating. They are a mite, and like ticks, will have eight legs as an adult. There are 46 species of chiggers in Kansas. The hatching stage, larva, of all chiggers are parasitic on animals, but only one species feeds on humans. After feeding on the animal host for two to four days they drop off, molt and spend the rest of their life predating on insects, other mites and their eggs.

You will probably never see a chigger. An adult chigger is red and about 1/20th of an inch long. The larva stage that feeds on humans is 1/120th to 1/160th of an inch long! Once they hatch, these tiny six legged menaces crawl up on grass blades or other vegetation and wait for a potential host to walk by.

Being so small, chiggers can go right through the weave of many fabrics. Chiggers do not suck blood, nor do they burrow under the skin. They like to find a hair follicle or pore, often under a tight fitting piece of clothing, grab on and attach their mouth parts to your skin. They then secrete saliva that digests your skin cells. Sounds lovely, doesnít it?!

Unlike ticks and mosquitoes, chiggers do not seem to carry diseases, but the personal discomfort they cause can be severe. One seldom has just one chigger bite. If you were in the right area to get one chigger, itís not uncommon to get a couple dozen! Personal protection is the best approach. Avoid areas of tall grass and weeds where little sunlight penetrates to the soil surface. These are ideal areas for chiggers to hatch and wait. High boots and trousers of tightly woven material tucked into stockings or boots will help deter them.

Repellents, applied to skin and clothing, are the best defense for most folks. Sulfur dust has long been used effectively, applied to socks and trouser cuffs, to reduce chigger bites. But sulfur can be messy and the odor, when the sulfur becomes wet with perspiration, can be unpleasant. Insect repellents containing DEET can be effectively used on skin and clothing. Remember that all you have to do is sit down in a grassy spot and instantly the chiggers can bypass the treatments applied to your pant legs. The permethrin containing tick repellents are also very effective against chiggers when used as a clothing treatment only.

If chiggers get to the skin and feed for even a couple of hours, they will usually cause a reaction in most people. One requirement for relief from the itching is to seal the bite from the air. Salves that also contain antihistamines or topical steroids can be very effective. There are many products on the market that will work and each person has to find what works best to relieve their personal chigger torture. The sooner you can start treating the bites, the better. In some cases, the reactions to the bites can be so severe that you may need to visit with your doctor for some stronger relief.

Chiggers, along with mosquitoes and ticks, are a part of every Kansas summer. Use precautions, personal protection and close scrutiny to minimize the risk and discomfort. And then get out there and enjoy the summer!


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