I’d never heard of chiggers until we arrived in Indiana. It’s not that they’re only found in Indiana, but that’s where they found me and had their feeding frenzy. I didn’t realize what hit me until the discomfort began. These nasty tiny mites with big bites left me scratching, seemingly without end, for several days.
Being out in the great outdoors most of the time, we are constantly exposed to unsavory critters. We try to heed warnings and pay attention to information about local plant and animal hazards while hiking in unfamiliar places. But nothing prepared me for the discomfort I would feel a few hours after this hike, when I noticed a cluster of bites on my mid-section, and the itching and scratching began.
So, what are chiggers?
- Chiggers are not insects – they belong to the arachnids and are part of the same family as spiders, scorpions, and ticks.
- They don’t burrow into the skin like ticks; instead they inject digestive enzymes that break down the skin, allowing them to slurp up the dissolved skin cells. For a detailed explanation, check out http://animals.howstuffworks.com/arachnids/chigger.htm
- It’s the baby chiggers (larvae) that feed on the tissue of mammals (me) for nourishment. These images are of adult chiggers, but of course I killed them anyway.
- Chiggers go for the thinnest skin on our bodies, and the bites tend to cluster in places that are delicate and sensitive. In my case, they had their party around my waist area and other unmentionable parts.
- Once they’re done feeding, they drop to the ground and molt into nymphs – while the unfortunate human is left miserable for several days. In short, they “eat and run”.
How to keep them off
If you’re in a place where chiggers could be your neighbors, here are some precautions I learned for avoiding my misery in the future:
- Long pants and long sleeves are a must, with the pants tucked into the socks for extra protection.
- Stay on the trail and out of tall weeds and patches of brambles – hard for me because sometimes that’s where the best pictures can be taken!
- Shower promptly and scrub thoroughly immediately when we get home.
- Wash hiking clothes with hot water to kill any chiggers that might be living there.
- Have calamine lotion, antihistamines or hydrocortisone ready in case of future attacks.
My “chigger attack” occurred on July 18th. Eight days later, I no longer get up at midnight to apply Cortizone 10, but I’m still itching and scratching. Time is the only remedy for my discomfort. Although Steve cringes every time I show him the affected area, he is blissfully oblivious of my suffering, as most men have tougher skin and are rarely affected by these little devils. As they say, “women and children first”!
And that, my dear readers, is your “chigger education” for today. We must continue to enjoy the great outdoors, and avoid the chiggers whenever we can!