These creatures exist and while the name “chiggers’ bites” are a misnomer, these horrible little creatures can certainly cause intense itching on your skin. Read this article to find out what you can do to avoid them and how to get rid of chiggers.
What are Chiggers?
Their scientific name is Trombiculidae or trombiculid mites. You may hear them referred to as chiggers, harvest mites, mowers mites, harvest lice, red bugs, berry bugs and a host of other names. They are so tiny that you almost can’t see them without a magnifying glass or microscope. Chiggers tend to congregate in shady areas with a lot of vegetation and can be found in fresh cut grass, tall weeds, overgrown and wooded areas.
One female can lay hundreds of eggs, and once hatched, they all tend to stay in the same area. For this reason, you may encounter hundreds of chiggers in one general area and not find any just a few yards away. Full grown, these tiny mites (that are cousins of scorpions and spiders), measure only 1/150th of an inch, making them very difficult to see or avoid.
If you’ve ever had a run-in with these little guys, you are probably well aware of the uncomfortable effects they can cause. They leave itchy welts sometimes called chigger bites, though, in reality, they don’t bite at all.
The itchy welts left behind by these little red mites are commonly called chigger bites, though they aren’t actually bitings at all. A chigger larvae can attach itself to a human host, though it isn’t biting. It may latch on to the skin, which a person won’t even feel due to its small size. Contrary to many assumptions, they don’t lay an egg in the skin or even bite the skin. Instead, chiggers drill microscopic holes into the skin with their mouth and then secrete specialized salivary enzymes (aka- spit) onto the skin. See… not technically a bite (I know, I know, too-may-toe, to-mah-toe). These enzymes cause the skin to break down, so the chiggers can essentially slurp up the decaying skin through a straw-like tube. Disgusted? I was too.
Symptoms of Chiggers Bites
Many insects and plants can cause an itchy red rash so it can be tough to know if it is actually chiggers or something else. Here’s what to look for to know if you’ve been attacked by these larvae:
– Initial itching in areas that may have been exposed to chiggers in tall grass, woods or shady areas
– Chiggers tend to target more delicate skin around ankles, waist, groin, and behind the knees
– The itchy blisters are most common around the waist and lower legs, as these are the easiest for chiggers to reach
– What starts as itching soon becomes red bumps that can look like small blisters
– These itch intensely for several days before crusting over and may have a scab for several weeks
– The initial itching may be bad enough to keep you up at night
Natural Remedies for Chiggers
If you’ve ever experienced the awful itching caused by chigger larvae, you know that you’ll do almost anything to make it stop. Thanks to our recent chigger infestation, we had plenty of opportunities to test natural remedies for the itching. These are the remedies that actually worked:
1. A Hot Shower
The best way to stop chiggers is to get rid of them before they attach and start spitting on the skin. This avoids the itching completely. I think this is also the reason that the baby and I were least affected by chiggers. It can take chiggers a few hours to find a place to latch on to skin and start drilling. If you can remove them during this window, you can often avoid the problem completely. If you think you may have been exposed to chiggers, a hot shower within the first hour or so can help remove them from the skin. Obvious other steps like using soap and scrubbing the skin can help too.
2. Baking Soda Scrub
These work best shortly after exposure but can help even once the severe itching sets in. It is also super simple. Just make a paste of equal parts baking soda and water and rub on the skin in the shower. Leave on for a few seconds before showering off. Be careful, this will sting like crazy, but it really helps stop the itch and beats staying up all night itching.
3. Rub Salt In the Wound
Just like the baking soda solution, this will sting, but it helps. The traditional advice is to mix some salt into some vapor-rub. I’d recommend using a natural or homemade vaporub salve instead to avoid the petroleum by-products though. The theory is that the menthol in the vaporub helps calm the itching and the salt helps neutralize the spit causing the itch. Whatever the science, this seemed to work the best. I mixed some Real Salt into my pre-made vapor rub and it offered some relief for the kids.
4. Castor Oil
This is an old remedy that the entomologist suggested. It seemed to work, though it wasn’t the most effective remedy we tried. If you have castor oil around it could be worth a try though. We dabbed small amounts on the bumps and it did offer some itching relief.
5. Diatomaceous Earth
A remedy I tried before I realized that chigger bites are not actually a chigger larvae embedded under the skin as is often claimed. Still, this worked remarkably well. My theory is that it does kill any remaining chiggers and dries out the bumps to reduce the itching. I’m also now using this as a preventative measure. Diatomaceous earth has many uses and can kill many small pests naturally. I’ll be sprinkling it in our socks and on our boots next time we camp!
Image Credits: Authority Remedies