Chiggers

Itching

The term chiggers refers to a species of insect in the family of mites. Chiggers are the larva of dust mites whose bite causes severe itching and discomfort for the host animal. The life cycle of these insects plays a critical role in understanding chiggers, particularly due to the fact that after their first bite the larva molt  into nymphs. Importantly the nymphs are not parasitical and instead eat whole insects as a function of feeding habits in this particular stage.  Afterward they transform into eight legged arachnids that live in the soil and feed on other insects and their eggs.  This life cycle indicates that the mites at the larvae stage are parasitic.  There are thousands of species of harvest mites in the world, some of which carry bacterial diseases.  However, regardless of their location chiggers tend to feed according to their shared  behavior.

Causes

Chiggers and their bites are caused by simply going into the great outdoors, particularly on hot humid days.  Chiggers tend to thrive in low clusters of vegetation and can easily be transported to clothing or skin if one is walking off the beaten trail.  Here the insect has optimal access to potential hosts to feed on. A chigger hatches in the spring,  summer, or early fall with the intent on finding a host to feed on, so to ingest the energy required to reach the next level of maturity in their life cycle.  The feeding behaviors of chiggers aid them in their mission to seek out and attach to a host. The insects are sensitive to light and prefer shady areas, such that the shadow of a host can cause them to flock towards the potential food source.  Chiggers also have the capacity to sense surface temperatures such as the body heat emanating from a host.  Furthermore, hair- like follicles protrude from their legs and can sense ripe places to feed.  These physiological predispositions enable chiggers to find and engage their hosts. An actual chigger bite is caused by the insect’s specialized mouth components which include chelicerae and a stylostome which creates a hole in the host’s skin. The saliva of these creatures contains specialized enzymes that act to break down cell walls which then become“slurry” of nutrients that the chigger ingests. Over time as the chigger stays attached to the host, the stylostome embeds itself deeper in the animal which is one of two primary factors causing itchiness.

Signs

As stated prior, chigger bites are a complex enzymatic reaction that breaks down skin cells, turning them into a weak, easily penetrable mixture rich with nutrients. A chigger bite itself is virtually un-detectable. However, after the parasite has begun to inject the enzymes and begin the feeding process, acute systems begin to rise. Itching is the primary symptom of a bite which usually occurs between 1-3 hours after the parasite has bitten the host. The itchiness is primarily caused by the stylostome being embedded in the skin, and is usually the most intense in 1-2 days after the bite.  The bitten area can then turn red and resemble a blister.  Here the larva remains attached to the site until it is ready to fall off and commence the next stage in its life cycle.

Cures

Since chiggers do not burrow in the skin, certain tried and trusted home remedies will be ineffective for removing chiggers.  Many non-credible sources proclaim that chiggers embed themselves under the skin and can be coaxed out using various substances found in one’s home. Evidentially, chiggers do not embed under the skin and rather use their stylostome to feed. Therefore, there is no cure for the trigger bite however, the itching can be relieved through a variety of treatment options which mainly include the application of soothing agents.  Calamine lotion and Benadryl have proven effective at relieving inflammation and itching. It is important to acknowledge that no remedy works equally well for each individual.  Chiggers can be prevented on the property by keeping ones lawn neatly mowed. Insecticides have also proven useful at eliminating the prevalence of chigger bites around one’s property.