Chiggers are the larvae (babies) of harvest mites or Trombiculidae. Closely related to ticks, these mites are arachnids, part of the same family that includes spiders and scorpions.
Chiggers don't bite like ticks, but they have similar mouth parts. Their smaller mouths cannot hold on very tight, which means they usually go for thinner skin. They don't prefer humans because we're big bullies. We easily brush chiggers away when they bite us, something their preferred prey -- birds and reptiles -- don't do.
Chiggers bite vulnerable places, like folds of skin and the area near hair follicles, and inject saliva. The saliva contains enzymes that liquify skin cells (yuck) and the chiggers suck out the liquid.
When chiggers bite you, your body reacts by hardening the cells up against the bite, which creates a tube. The tube acts as a perfect straw to help the chigger continue to suck out your liquid skin. It's all kind of gross.
The irritation that triggers the body to fight back and harden the area is what leads to itching, and itch it does. Chigger bites are well known for itching and creating red, raised bumps that cover large areas around the ankles, groin, armpits and around the waist near the belt line.
In North America, chiggers are harmless other than the itching. In Asia, chiggers can spread scrub typhus.
Preventing Chigger Bites
The good news? Using bug spray that contains DEET will prevent chigger bites. Indeed, the victim in this picture was the only one in the group wearing socks and shoes; everyone else was wearing flip-flops -- and bug spray.
Getting Rid of Chiggers
- Get rid of chiggers by taking a bath. Lather up the area with soap and rinse it off. Repeat the soap treatment at least once to get all the chiggers.
- If you don't have access to warm, soapy water, rub down with a clean cloth or towel. It doesn't take much to knock off feeding chiggers.
- Over-the-counter lotions can be used to try to stop the itching, but mostly you'll just have to wait it out. It should take 10-14 days for the itching to go away.
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Bicknese, Nina. "Chiggers!" MDC Online. Missouri Department of Conservation. 29 Jul 2008