Ticks and Chiggers

2009
06.15

Chicks and tiggers, giv’em the brush

I used the phrase chicks and tiggers instead of ticks and chiggers when I was young just to aggravate my brother. Chiggers are not bugs or insects. Chiggers are the juvenile (or larval) form of tiny mites, the Trombiculidae. Mites are arachnids, like spiders, and are related to ticks. Chiggers may be even more aggravating to gardeners than I was to my little brother using this tang tungler.

It is a myth that nail polish, bleach, alcohol, turpentine or salt water will rid you of ticks or chiggers. Chigger mites are unique among the many mite families, only the larval stage feeds on vertebrate animals; chiggers dine on us only in their juvenile (or larval) stage. As adults, they become vegetarians that live on the soil.

My eye sight has never been good enough to the tiny red chiggers. I usually discover them after they have settled in for dinner. I am the main course. Chiggers are tiny. But you can brush them off. They are looking for tender, thin skin such as where the skin wrinkles and folds. Sadly, the longer I live, the more ideal dining area I provide for ticks and chiggers.

As if chiggers aren’t annoying enough, this illustration and the following paragraph are right from the Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet HYG-2100-98

Bites

Chigger larvae do not burrow into the skin, nor suck blood. They pierce the skin and inject into the host a salivary secretion containing powerful, digestive enzymes that break down skin cells that are ingested (tissues become liquefied and sucked up). Also, this digestive fluid causes surrounding tissues to harden, forming a straw-like feeding tube of hardened flesh (stylostome) from which further, partially-digested skin cells may be sucked out. After a larva is fully fed in four days, it drops from the host, leaving a red welt with a white, hard central area on the skin that itches severely and may later develop into dermatitis. Any welts, swelling, itching, or fever will usually develop three to six hours after exposure and may continue a week or longer. If nothing is done to relieve itching, symptoms may continue a week or more. Scratching a bite may break the skin, resulting in secondary infections.

disgusting, huh?

The best way to avoid them is to take a soapy shower after you have been stamping around outdoors. Though they are young, chiggers are vulnerable to temperatures. Chiggers are most active in the afternoons, and when ground temperature is between 77 and 86 degrees. Researchers have also found that chiggers actively avoid objects hotter than 99 degrees. Rocks that have been baking in the sun are usually free of chiggers, and make a safe place to sit when you are in a chigger-infested area. Chiggers become completely inactive when temperatures fall below 60 degrees; temperature below 42 degrees will kill the chigger species that bite us.

Excellent information about preventing and caring for tick and chigger bites is on the Missouri Department Of Conservation Web site: If you are in an area that probably has chiggers, the best thing to do is take a soapy shower as soon a possible. A shower or bath is the best defense. If this at is not possible, give them the brush. A brisk brushing off of your arms and legs will crush or knock them off before they c an attach. State health department officials have documented a 300 percent increase in tick-borne disease in Missouri since 2003. Good information about ticks is also at the Missouri Department of Conservation website.

This tick illustration using the dime for comparison is from the CDC.
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