While harvest mites are considered harmless in their adult stage, in the larvae stage - wherein they are known as chiggers - they are notorious for their nasty bites which can cause severe itchy bumps on the skin.
Chiggers are larvae of Trombicula alfreddugesi, commonly known as harvest mites, berry bugs, red bugs or scrub-itch mites. The six-legged larvae are bright red to orange in color, and resemble tiny velvety red spiders in appearance.
They measure about 1/100th of an inch (about 0.4mm), and therefore, it is difficult to detect their presence until they bite. They don't just bite humans, but are also a threat to animals like rodents, birds, poultry, rabbits, livestock, toads and snakes.
Chiggers are known for their adaptability, and are found near damp areas like berry bushes, orchards, lakes or streams, as well as dry areas like lawns, parks, golf courses, etc. The most common chigger species found in United States is Trombicula alfreddugesi .
In UK, it is the Trombicula autumnalis (harvest mites). In summer, you will find these tiny mites in abundance hiding in grass, weeds as well as other vegetation. They love a nice warm temperature, tall green grass. Chiggers are most active in June and in the warm days of July.
Chiggers can move very quickly on the ground and can crawl silently over feet and legs. They search for a place that will help them stay hidden like near the corner of ankles, under your socks or even at the curve of your knee.
If you happen to sit in the lawn or ground which is infested with chiggers, you may end up with severe bites at your waistline, crotch area or even under the elastic band of your underwear. If the chiggers get a chance to move to your upper body, they won't shy away from biting your armpits, chest and even upper arms. Nasty, little parasites, I say.
How Do Chiggers Bite?
Chiggers are so small that they are often missed by the human eye. Thus, giving rise to the old myth that chiggers burrow under your skin. The fact is chiggers bite you by inserting their feeding structures into the skin, thus, injecting the enzymes that destroy the host tissue.
They do not feed on blood, another common myth, but the fact is they feed on liquefied human skin cells. The digestive enzymes causes the surrounding skin to harden and form a feeding tube called a stylostome. Thus, begins the enjoyable feast of the little larvae upon the destroyed tissue. If left undisturbed, they will keep feeding for a few days.
However, the possibility of undisturbed feeding is very rare as they cause considerable itching. Chigger bites leads to severe irritation and swelling. After the larvae detaches itself from the skin, it causes severe, intense itching as well as red bumps, hives, and skin rash on the skin.
Chiggers have a very delicate mouth and feeding structures. They can penetrate the skin, that is thin like near folds, wrinkles, etc. The most common areas of bites are around the ankles, crotch, groin, areas behind the knees and the armpits. When a chigger is moved before it completes its meal, it cannot bite again and will die.
Sad, but you can't help it as the nasty bites are too painful. After the bite, the itching is at its peak for a day or two. The stylostome remains embedded in the skin, even though you get rid of the chigger.
The skin will stay itchy for another 10 days or even more, as there is an allergic reaction within your skin and the stylostome is slowly absorbed by the body.
How To Treat Chigger Bites?
Chigger rash or bite is called trombiculosis or trombiculidiasis in medical terms. These terms are used to describe the rashes caused trombiculid mites. The most common home remedies are application of nail polish or alcohol and even bleach which is thought to suffocate the chigger burrowed under the skin.
But as chiggers are not burrowing creatures, these remedies prove to be absolutely useless. Also, by the time you realize chigger bites, the tiny larvae may have already dropped off. Thus, there is no larvae mites present to suffocate.
You need to apply calamine lotion and corticosteroid cream to relieve the itching and inflammation. You may also try oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for symptom relief.
You can even take a hot shower or try heat compress. This will help relieve the severe itching for a few hours. You can even apply a bit of honey on your chigger bites. Oatmeal baths are also very helpful in reducing your discomfort.
How to Prevent Chigger Bite?
The best way to prevent chiggers is washing up with soap and water after coming home from an outdoor activity. You should also wash the clothes worn outdoors to kill any chiggers that might have been stuck in the fabric.
Wear long pants, sleeves and tuck your pants in your boots. Wear thick socks and high ankle shoes. You may even try applying insect repellents that contain DEET, nepetalactone, citronella and eucalyptus oil.
The temperature also plays an important role in preventing the chigger bites. If the outdoor temperature is cold, that is below 60°C they will not bite. Hot and sunny areas with temperatures above 99°F can also be termed as chigger free areas.
How to Get Rid of Chiggers?
Chiggers are mostly active during the warm seasons, that is between spring and early fall. They are found to be living in tall grasses, weeds, berry patches, bushes, straw. leaves, fences, bark and dense foliage.
If you are wondering how to get rid of them, then make sure you trim your garden during this warm season.
You should undertake weed control and remove dense foliage that is not a part of your garden. Clear out all the heaps of dead and decaying leaves and plant matter. You should flood the foliage once a week, with a mixture of soap and water to get rig of chiggers.
In case of houseplants, kill the adults and larvae with a mild insecticidal soap that is safe to be used on plants. Keep these plants away from human contact and pets. Repeat the rising, once a week for four weeks.
Dust your shoes, socks and pants with sulfur, as it keeps them away. Avoid entering tall grassy area and thick unshaded vegetation during the active time of chiggers.
While chiggers are not known to pose a serious threat to humans, scratching the bumps caused by chigger bites may lead to a bacterial infection. These arthropod pests know very well how to ruin your joyful outings and make their pleasurable. A bit of care and you can prevent the nasty bites of a chigger.