It’s summer! It is a great time to be outdoors working in the garden, playing in the sprinkler, and getting bug bites. I realize bug bites is not something we want to think about when we think about the joys of summer, but it’s a reality that they go together. Insects and other “bugs” are active in the summer months and that is when they feed on us. Mosquitoes, ticks, flies, gnats, and chiggers can be found throughout the summer months nagging us and leaving us with itchy, red bumps all over our bodies.
Chiggers are actually a type of arthropod, but not an insect. They are more closely related to a spider than they are to an insect because they have 8 legs. However, when mites are immature they do only have 6 legs, which makes it more confusing. Many people will also call chiggers “jiggers” which is the same thing, these would just be different common names for the same mite. The stage that bites us is an immature form of the common red harvest mite.
Chiggers differ from mosquitoes and ticks by their food choices. They do bite us but they do not do it to suck our blood. They pierce us with their mouthpart to inject their salivary fluid that breaks down the host animal’s cells so they can then suck up the liquefied tissue as a drink. The enzymes that are found in their salivary fluid is what causes an itchy reaction to us. Chiggers prefer to feed in locations that are constricted such as sock tops or waistbands. If we itch the bite mark bacteria and fungi can get into the bite if we itch the spot, which can cause more problems and an occasional infection. The best thing for the bite is to avoid itching it by using an antihistamine cream on each bite.
Many people believe that chiggers burrow into our skin and that is what causes the itch. These people also believe that painting nail polish over the bites will smother and kill the chigger, thus eliminating the itch. This is not true. Chiggers are easily removed from our bodies with soap and water. They only will stay on you until they are brushed off or until they are done feeding, from on top of our skin.
Chiggers can be found in your yard or anywhere with tall grass and weeds. The best way to keep from being bitten by chiggers would be to avoid sitting in grass. If you can lay down a blanket or sit in a chair you would be better off than if you sat directly in the grass. Also, it is best to wear long sleeved shirts and pants with socks and boots to eliminate locations where chiggers can get to our skin. Make sure that anytime you are outside in the summer months, you use insect repellents containing DEET to deter chiggers from feeding on you. If you find a large population of chiggers in your own lawn, a liquid treatment of bifenthrin will reduce chiggers 75-95 percent for several weeks, according to Fred Baxendale, UNL Entomologist.