Chiggers are invisible but unforgettable
North Carolina Cooperative Extension News

Chiggers are invisible but unforgettable

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It’s summer and outdoor events are the norm. Picking blackberries, picnics, hikes, camping trips, fishing on a river bank — all great activities for the season and harmless, so you think. But, there’s an almost invisible danger out there just waiting for the oblivious outdoorsman. Meet the chigger: a tiny eight-legged mite that will quietly attach itself to your skin and cause misery for up to three weeks.

Chiggers live in tall weeds and grasses, blackberry thickets and wooded areas. They lurk along hiking trails, river banks and fields of tall grass. Active in the spring, summer and fall, they love warm temperatures. It is the larva of the chigger that bites humans. Only 1/150 of an inch, it is almost invisible. The larvae have claws, which they use to attach themselves to the skin when someone brushes up against vegetation where chiggers are present. A saliva is injected into the skin, which turns skin cells into liquid, which is then eaten. Chiggers do not suck blood at all. Chiggers remain attached and feeding for up to four days before falling off. Itching can start within a few hours and last up to three weeks. More than one chigger can attach, and many times welts will show up in clusters.

Contrary to popular beliefs, chiggers don’t burrow under the skin. Using products such as clear nail polish to smother the mites don’t work. Antiseptics should be used and anti-itch products are also helpful. If exposure is suspected, an immediate hot shower is suggested. Chiggers prefer areas of the body that are warm and moist.

The use of insect repellents can help prevent chigger bites. Apply to shoe tops, cuffs and neck openings and don’t forget waistbands. Also, when picking blackberries, long-sleeved shirts and pants are recommended with shoes and socks. Tuck pant legs in to socks. When hiking, stay in the middle of the trail and refrain from sitting on fallen logs.

Don’t give up your outside time because of chiggers. Use some common sense and enjoy the summer.

Donna Teasley is an Extension agent specializing in consumer horticulture for Burke County. Contact her at 828-764-9480 or donna_teasley@ncsu.edu. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension — Burke County Center is located at 130 Ammons Drive, Suite 2 in Morganton. For more information, visit burke.ces.ncsu.edu.

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