Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Tuesday, July 08, 2008



Photo: University of North Dakota

After my unsuccessful collecting trip last week I've been whining complaining sharing stories about my chigger bites with various acquaintances. I've been surprised at how misunderstood chiggers are. Chiggers are mites too small to be readily visible to the naked eye. When they bite you, they are not burrowing under your skin, nor are they laying eggs there. And unlike mosquitoes, chiggers don't suck your blood. Instead, they inject saliva, which in their case contains a bunch of digestive enzymes, under your skin. They feed on the fluid formed from your partially digested body tissues. Yum! Then they drop off. The extremely itchy and persistent red welt doesn't form until 24-48 hours later. The welt is your body's immunological reaction to the digestive enzymes and other components of the injected saliva. I can personally vouch for the most effective means of coping with the aftermath of a chigger attack: anti-itch hydrocortisone ointment. The relief is not instant, however it dramatically reduces both the itching and the redness. The bites vanish much more quickly than if left untreated- a couple of days versus more than a week.



At 00:10, Blogger Ur-spo said...

i don't care how misunderstood they are; they are nasty and should be stomped upon.

At 04:57, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are these the same as house dust mites Doug, they dont bare thinking about either.

At 06:40, Blogger BentonQuest said...

Nasty things, but thanks for the info! If I am going to be dinner, I appreciate knowing how I am being prepared!!

At 08:21, Blogger cedrorum said...

My favorite topical application for chiggers is chiggerex

I've used this since my grandparents put it on me as a child in Texas.

At 10:15, Blogger robin andrea said...

I think I've always confused chiggers with leeches. I've never encountered either of them, which might explain why I don't know the difference. Still, tiny blood-sucking, flesh-eating critters have reputations that precede them. I hope to avoid them for the rest of my life.

I hope you are feeling better.

At 14:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected. It's not a bug under one's skin, but a digestive enzyme and damaged tissue. Much less distressing. Thanks.


At 16:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chiggers are pure EVIL.

That is all.

At 18:05, Blogger rodger said...

I've never had the opportunity to meet up with a chigger but I sure like the name. I think I'll name my next dog Chigger...It has a nice flow.

At 22:05, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Spo- Agreed. Though stomping is likely to be ineffectual with these guys.

Roy although chiggers and dust mites are both mites, they are nhot the same mites.

Ben- Earlier this week, I felt very thoroughly prepared.

cedrorum- Interesting. I wonder how combining this product with hydrocortisone would work. The benzocaine in Chiggerex should provide nearly instant relieve, while the cortisone should suppress the immune response for longer-term relief.

Robin- Leeches are much bigger- clearly visible- and look like worms. They DO suck your blood. Chiggers are what's in the photo at the top of the post.

TF23- Yeah, this is one of those cases where the real story isn't at all comforting.

Membracid- What can I possibly add? Perhaps we should name them Christine.

Rodger- Whatever. See Membracid's comment above.

At 00:24, Blogger Dr. Know said...

Mosquitoes and Chiggers are a common pestilance in this area, and I am a magnet for them both.

And for those who have never "seen" one, go lay out in a nice patch of vegetation for a bit. You'll experience first hand the joys of being digested from the inside out, but all you'll see are the welts.

At 13:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chiggers: another reason I'm glad I no longer live in Arkansas.

I don't know which I disliked more while I was growing up, the chigger bites themselves or my dad saying every time I headed outside, "Careful out there, you'll get a chigger on your digger!"

At 14:33, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

As far as I know I have never been bitten by a chigger but noticed the warning about them in some areas where I would like to go biridng. I'm glad you wrote this post because I've been wanting to ask what they are. Are there any preventitive measure to be taken?

Also, we are heading to Maine tomorrow and Gus and I will both be taking tons of photos!

At 14:52, Blogger Texas Travelers said...

My Niece has a dog named Chigger.
Feisty little Devil.

If you go through Arkansas, don't stop on the highway right-of-way to photograph Wildflowers. The Chiggers are as big as Bumblebees. (grin).

BTW, the Media is Mad.


At 09:19, Blogger T.R. said...

Having had both leeches and chiggers - I would take a leech any day over a chigger. Leeches do not leave you with two weeks of gouging your skin.

Chiggers adore me and grab on for a ride in abundance -- rendering a hike in Oklahoma after the last freeze nearly impossible unless the path is wide. Guess what's hiding in those beautiful tall grass prairies -- look don't touch.

At 09:22, Blogger T.R. said...

PS. The longtime remedy in Oklahoma is clear finger nail polish on the bite -- many believe the parasite has burrowed in and or laid eggs and has to be suffocated by the application of the lacquer. All urban legends of course.

At 01:12, Blogger Marvin said...

I prefer ticks to chiggers. Having neither would be nice. Instead, we have both.

At 13:19, Blogger H said...


At 14:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my youth I lived in chigger world -- eastern Kansas. In college I worked with Henry Fitch on KU's Natural History Reservation, where chigger's were abundant. Fitch's solution was to dust socks and pant legs with Flowers of Sulphur and tuck the pant legs into the socks. And it worked! I think the finely ground sulphur caused perforations in the chigger exoskeleton and they died from fluid loss before they could get to our skin.


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