There is a good reason chiggers are also known as “redbugs,” but despite their bright color, it takes good eyes, good lighting and good magnification to be able to see one. These tiny creatures cause bites that are far out of proportion to their size, and all too often they are not alone when you get them. Adult chiggers don’t bite, neither do the older stages of immature chiggers, known as nymphs. It is only young, newly-hatched chiggers, known as larvae, that cause such misery. Adult chiggers and nymphs feed on small insects, insect eggs, and organic matter. Chigger larvae primarily feed on small vertebrates, such as birds, mice, lizards and toads, leaving these initial hosts after a few days to become nymphs and continue their life cycle.
Why are chigger bites so irritating? It’s because of the way they feed. Chiggers usually attach at the base of a hair follicle and begin injecting digestive fluid into the skin. This digestive fluid dissolves skin cells, chemically boring a hole into the skin and creating a sort of straw filled with digested skin tissue on which the chiggers feed. It is our bodies reaction to the saliva and digestive enzymes that causes the itching.
Control: Keeping the grass mown and the weeds trimmed is a good way to reduce chigger populations in home landscapes. When working or playing outside during chigger season, try to avoid areas of tall weeds and shrubs. If you must enter such areas wear protective clothing, such as long pants and high-topped boots, and use a permethrin-based insect repellent (Repel Permethrin Clothing & Gear Insect Repellent is one example) according to label directions. These permethrin-based repellents must only be applied to exterior clothing, not for use directly on skin, but when used correctly, they work great for preventing chiggers and ticks. Bathe in hot, soapy water, using a bath cloth to scrub the skin and wash clothing as soon as possible following outdoor excursions. The goal here is to wash away as many chiggers as possible before they have a chance to “settle in.”
Thanks to MSU Extension Medical and Veterinary Entomology Specialist, Dr. Jerome Goddard for his input and assistance with this article. Dr. Goddard is the appropriate specialist to contact if you have additional questions about chiggers and chigger control.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service. The information given here is for educational purposes only. Always read and follow current label directions. Specific commercial products are mentioned as examples only and reference to specific products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended to other products that may also be suitable and appropriately labeled.
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