Saturday, June 25, 2016


by Dac Crossley
Dac Crossley
June - when those pesky little chigger mites are in full season. We have itchy welts and the urge to scratch places that are not consider polite in company. Chiggers or redbugs, are the larval stage of big red mites that live in the soil, where they chase down and eat other little critters. The larval babies are parasites and are prone to find you and me. There are 60 different kinds in the southeast, though fortunately most of them don't bite us.
   Pest chiggers will attack almost any vertebrate animal they can find, but their preferred hosts are reptiles. Find a log or brush pile with scaly lizards around it and you'll probably find chiggers. Look closely at that log, wave your hand over it to cast a shadow, watch carefully and you can see a swarm of little red dots begin to move.
   A myth about chiggers is that they burrow into your skin. Remember the bottles of clear nail polish you used to cut off the air to the little critters so they'd die?
   Truth is they do not burrow into your skin. They crawl up to the base of a hair, or find a tight place in your clothing, settle down, and begin to feed on your skin. They do this by injecting saliva which dissolves your skin. They suck up the juices; they don't take solid food. Chiggers repeat the process, and each injection of saliva forms a feeding tube that goes deeper and deeper into the skin. Your skin reacts, swells, and begins to itch.

   That's when you scratch. And scrape off the chigger. Dead end for the mites, and you're stuck with several days of a severe itch. A little red spot is visible at the center of the bite, but it isn't the chigger. It's the remnants of the feeding tube.
   What to do. The best strategy is to avoid being bitten in the first place. The methods you use to avoid ticks work for chiggers also: stay away from bushy, woodsy places. Tuck your pants legs into your boots. Take a hot, soapy shower as soon as you get home. And dash a little powered sulfur around your ankles; that will repel the chiggers. Fill an old sock with flowers of sulfur (see your druggist), and just beat your ankles with it before you head into the garden. Sulfur is a good inorganic miticide.
   Once you get a few bites there aren't many remedies. A southern folk remedy uses a mixture of salt and butter. Generally, any salve with benzocaine or other topical analgesics will help. Try not to scratch (yeah, right).
   Nash Black's Granny remedy is Absorbine Jr. It relieves the itch so you don't scratch.
   The good news is that the population of chiggers seems to reach a peak in mid-July and then starts to decline. There is a little, smaller peak of abundance in late August. But by hunting season the chigger mites are gone.
   Dac Crossley is the foremost authority on mites in the United States and retired from the University of Georgia. He grew up near the King Ranch in Texas and now writes award winning westerns. Follow him at  

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