Chiggers

Chiggers, also known as “red bugs”, are the larvae of mites. When a human is bitten by a chigger, it can cause serious itching as well as small red welts on the skin. An infection can occur from the severe irritation and frequent scratching. Chiggers are not known to transmit any human diseases in Florida.

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Biology

There are five main stages of the life cycle of chiggers. Egg, prelarva, larva, nymph and adult. Females will find sheltered areas to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch they are prelarva, which means they are inactive and they do not feed. Once they reach the larva stage, that is when they are in the parasitic stage and they will feed on humans and animals. The stage of orange-yellow or light-red larval with six legs, crawl on the soil until they find a suitable host. A suitable host an range from mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Humans are not an intentional host for chiggers. If they become attached to a human, they are usually dislodged or they will die within hours.

The larvae will not burrow under the skin, but instead they will suck fluids out of the host animal. It takes three days for a larva to become engorged. Once they are engorged, they will fall off their host and transform into the nymphal stage.

Just like the adult mite, the nymph has 8 legs. Their body is hairy and around 1/20 inch long as well as bright red. Both the nymph and adult will feed on insect eggs, small insects and other organisms. Adult chiggers are active in the spring, however in South Florida they can be active all year.

It can take anywhere between 2 months to one year for the entire life cycle to take place. Up to five generations can be produced per year based on the temperature, moisture and location.

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Chigger Bites

Chiggers insert their piercing mouthparts to the skin, hair follicles or pores and attach themselves. They are not noticed for quite some time once they attach to a human. They will inject a fluid into the skin, which dissolves tissue, during feeding. Chiggers do not feed on blood. What they do feed on is partially digested skin cells and lymph broken down by their saliva. There is a human immune reaction that takes place when a chigger bites you, keeping it from obtaining adequate nourishment. They very rarely ever survive long enough to actually finish a complete meal.

Four to eight hours after a chigger bite is generally when you will notice any itching. The welts are caused by the fluid injection, which could last up to two weeks. There have been cases where a human has had an allergic reaction from the fluid. This can result in some severe swelling, itching and even fever. Some people believe that chiggers embed themselves in the skin or that the welts contain them, but this is a mistake. Scratching at these welts can cause secondary infection.

Chiggers are found on the body in places like ankles, waistline, knees and armpits, this is due to them liking spots where clothing fits tightly or where the skin is thin, tender or wrinkled.

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Preferred Habitat

Most often, chiggers are found in low, damp areas where vegetation is heavy. They will be most abundant in areas that are covered with shrubs and small trees where rodents are numerous. A female lays all her eggs in one spot, so they are likely to occur in pockets or islands. However, chiggers may persist in home lawn.

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Control

When a chigger is on the skin, it can be removed easily by taking a hot bath or shower and lathering up with soap several times. A bath will kill those that are attached and not attached. It is not always possible to prevent welts caused by chiggers because symptoms of contact may not appear for several hours. You should apply antiseptic to all welts that do appear. Temporary relief of itching may be taken care of by nonprescription local anesthetics which you can get at most drug stores. Another thing that can ease itching is rubbing meat tenderizer into the welt.

Where protective clothing if you are going into areas where chiggers are suspected. You should also use repellent containing DEET (N.N-dimethyl-3-benzamide).

Infestations may be eliminated through habitat reduction. You can remove their protective cover by keeping up with frequent mowing, clearing shrubbery and removing weeds. Those are the things that chiggers need to survive, so by eliminating those, you will help eliminate any presence of them. One way to locate infested areas is to place a piece of black cardboard edgewise on the ground, if chiggers are present, they will climb to the top and congregate there. It will look like tiny yellow or pink dots moving around. Of course, before starting, use protective clothing and repellents.

Chiggers can sometimes invade structures. These infestations can be controlled with either surface or crack and crevice treatments of insecticide or space sprays.

 

References:

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ig085

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