Chiggers, the tiny outdoor pests which attach themselves to the most sensitive areas of your skin can create irritation to such an extent that anyone inflicted with bites may never want to step out into the outdoors again.
In many states this summer, especially Texas, the spread of chiggers will be rampant. Understanding the habitat and breeding of chiggers, along with methods for controlling outbreaks is the primary step in making your summer a more pleasant experience. If affected by an outbreak of chigger bites, the proper treatment can restore a sense of normalcy in no time at all.
In the larval stage, chiggers are orange, yellow or light red. In the spring, females become active and may lay as many as 15 eggs per day. As they grow, chiggers darken into a deeper red color, grow eight legs, grow hair and develop a body which is noticeably smaller than their heads. There are two types of chiggers: those that breed and live in grass and weed areas and those that flourish in swampy environments especially among rotten logs and stumps. What is not commonly known is that chiggers are part of the tick and spider family and begin feeding on humans and animals in spring and then become extensively active in the summer. They are stimulated into action by factors such as body odor and carbon dioxide at which point they will find the host and attach for feeding. Feeding involves engorgement of the chigger and will last one to three days at which point the chigger will mature into an adult and create their own offspring during the following winter. And so the dreaded cycle continues.
To prevent chigger outbreaks, commercial repellants are highly recommended. A repellant effective for mosquitoes and other inspects will usually suffice. Most repellants will provide protection for only a few hours so when exposed to the outdoors for extended periods, wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid sitting or reclining on the ground. Ground avoidance is recommended as most chiggers stave in dark rooted weed areas and, when disturbed, will begin to bother you, the host. Also, avoid sitting or laying down in a sunny spot as chiggers are most active at midday when temperatures reach 60 degrees farenheight.
Control of chiggers over large areas of land is not practical. However, if it is possible to avoid the use of Bermuda grass, your chigger infestation may be kept at a minimum. Studies have shown chiggers tend to breed and live in Bermuda grass more commonly than other types of grass. When attempting to control growth within your yard, check for areas, or “islands”, as chiggers tend to migrate together. When an island is found, there is most likely several feet around that mound where no chiggers will be noticed. Yards with more proliferant chigger infestation may require re-treatment every two to three weeks. Dursban, Sevin, Tempo and Yardex provide great options in lawn care.
If infected with chigger “bites”, treatment options are limited. Bites will appear as tiny red, swollen areas on the skin and may be particularly located in areas where clothing is closer to the body; beltlines, waistlines, in socks and where flesh is thin. The bites tend to itch intensively and may continue itching for several days which is attributed to the enzyme injected by the chigger when he feeds tissue from the skin as part of the digestive process. To reduce the symptoms of itching and burning, immediately soak in a hot bathof water to ensure all remaining chiggers on the skin are removed. Apply an antiseptic solution to any swollen areas that remain in order to prevent infection. Although chigger bites have not been known to cause disease, the continuous scratching of a bite may result in an infection. Applying an over the counter, anti-itch product, such as Calamine lotion, Vaseline, cold cream or baby oil will aide in relieving pain while the itching subsides over the next two to three days. It is important to note that not every individual responds equally to a chigger “bite”. If your symptoms extend beyond that of standard itching, consult a physician immediately.
Whether attending a picnic, fishing, hiking or simply watching birds, if you are in the outdoors, you will most likely interact with chiggers at some level. Taking personal care to ensure prevention, coupled with making the correct landscaping and gardening choices, will make your summer much more safe and enjoyable. Remember, when infected; treat with hot bath and chamomile lotion and within three days you will be off enjoying the summer activities once again.