Photo: University of North Dakota
After my unsuccessful collecting trip last week I've been
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.