What are Chiggers?
Chiggers belong to the Arachnida class (as do spiders) and the family Trombiculidae, which is an umbrella term for all types of mites. Perhaps the most well-known mites are chiggers because they’re little bugs with a big bite.
Chiggers vary from orange to red in color, reaching almost half a millimeter in size when including their legs. They live in the vegetation of low, damp areas like woodlands and grasslands, making them common in backyards, orchards, and areas with tall grass and foliage. You can typically find them in early summer when grass, weeds, and vegetation are thickest.
During chiggers’ larval stage they can cause serious harm. As larvae, they attach to humans and animals to feed on their skin, causing an irritating reaction like dermatitis and blistering pustules.
Don’t Confuse Chiggers for Jiggers
Although they look similar, there is a distinct difference between chiggers and jiggers (also known as clover mites).
For starters, chiggers are found outdoors. Unless they’ve brushed off on your clothing, they’re unlikely to make their way inside since they prefer living in low-lying, damp vegetation.
Jiggers, however, may come indoors at certain times of the year. But most importantly, unlike chiggers, these mites don’t bite or transmit diseases. Jiggers are more of a nuisance than harmful, whereas chiggers can pose as an irritating threat. Regardless of which pest you’re seeing, both are unwelcome and recommended for prompt removal.
Are Chiggers Harmful?
As parasitic larvae, chiggers feed on mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and even other insects.
Although nobody wants a chigger “bite,” the fact is that they don’t actually bite at all. Instead, they choose a host and inject a digestive enzyme into the skin that helps break down the cells. Instead of biting directly, the mite will use these enzymes to form a small hole in the skin so they can chew up tiny parts of the skin cells. Since it’s such a small creature, this typically doesn’t hurt but does cause itching.
Identifying a Chigger Bite
Itching is the most common symptom of a chigger bite, but since many insect bites cause itchiness, it can be useful to recognize the patterns of a chigger bite.
When a chigger bites you, the affected area will become red and can be flat or bubbled like a blister or welt. It’s also common to see a cluster of red bumps since these mites are known to live in groups.
The good news is that in the event you ever get bitten by a chigger, it’s unlikely the site will get infected. In North America, these bites are not likely to harm your health as long as you treat the site appropriately.
First clean the area with unscented antibacterial soap. You can also try lotions for itch relief. Although unlikely, it’s helpful to keep an eye on the bitten area for a few days to ensure that an infection hasn’t taken place.
Fortunately a North American chigger’s bite is not as severe as their East Asian or South Pacific cousins. Mites in these areas often carry a small bacterium that causes a disease called scrub typhus which can result in symptoms such as fevers, chills, headaches, cramps, and other uncomfortable side effects.
Signs of a Chigger Infestation
If you live in a woody area or near moist areas like rivers and lakes, there is a high chance that chiggers are nearby. They are primarily found in grasslands and near water sources since they like the dampness and are most active during the spring and summer months.
Although chiggers inhabit many parts of the continental United States, they are most prevalent in hot and humid regions like the Southeast, the South, and the Midwest. They are barely found in far northern areas, high mountains, or deserts.
Since the mites are nearly microscopic, many people don’t notice when they come across one, and it’s easy to accidentally pick up these mites when near infested vegetation. Unfortunately, you might not recognize you’ve come across chiggers until your skin has reacted to a bite, which is why it’s essential to recognize the symptoms of a chigger bite listed above.