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Everything you Need to Know about Chiggers

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Some of you saw this title and you remembered the itch. That incessant itching. I mean mosquitoes put in a good effort, but chiggers win all the awards when it comes to inspiring manic itching. And some of you probably have no idea what a chigger is, in which case you should read on.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not actually burrow into your skin. Well, if that’s not true, why is the welt so big and the itch so maddening? We’ll tell you why, along with a few other important chigger facts, in this post.

What is a chigger?

Chiggers are known by many names, including harvest mites, red bugs and berry bugs due to their stark red color. What we know as chiggers are actually larvae of a type of mite called Trombiculidae.

They are only parasitic as larva, and they are incredibly tiny during this phase. We are talking 0.2 millimeters, so good luck trying to spot them.

Where are chiggers found?

Chiggers are found throughout the world. In tropical, humid areas, they may be found year round, while in colder climates, they are active during warmer months of the year. Different species of chigger are present in different areas. Some chiggers may deliver a mild bite. Others may leave that 2-inch welt.

where in the world are chiggers found?

In the map above, green is chigger country. Chiggers like to hang out on plants and other surfaces close to the ground, where it’s most humid. In humid times of year, they may work their way up to higher surfaces.

Why do chiggers bite? And why are the bites so big?

Many people think that chiggers burrow under the skin. This is not true. What they do is possibly more disturbing.

  1. A chigger finds a nice piece of skin and pierces it
  2. Down comes a feeding tube along with enzymes that liquify a small amount of your skin tissue
  3. The chigger slurps up the liquified tissue until he is satisfied
  4. They may be attached to the skin for up to 5 days before falling off and going into the next stage of their lifecycle

No fun, right? The ensuing welt is so large because of your body’s reaction to the chigger’s feeding enzymes. How big are the bites? Here is a photo of one I just got from Kelley’s Island, OH, a small island in Lake Erie that is home to many, many, many chiggers:

chigger bite

Ok, that sucks.

How do you prevent chigger bites?

Apply insect repellant – DEET has the best track record when it comes to repelling chiggers. You can check out our recommendations for a suitable repellant here.

Don’t sit in the grass in areas where chiggers are endemic – or on the ground for that matter. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever sit in the grass. While chiggers have a global distribution, they are not present everywhere. I was just laying in the grass in Central Park a few weeks ago, and I have no chigger bites to speak of. Ask around at your destination. If there are chiggers, you will surely hear about them.

If you really want to get serious, tuck your pants into your socks – we know, it looks ridiculous, but it may be your best line of defense.

Wash your body and your clothes – after spending time in a chigger infested area, wash your body in hot soapy water and do the same with your clothes. This should take care of any chiggers that hitched a ride with you.

Can chiggers transmit diseases?

In most cases, no. In parts of East Asia and the South Pacific, a certain species of chigger has been known to carry a bacteria that can cause a strain of typhus known as scrub typhus. Thankfully, outbreaks of this disease are rare, and it can be treated with antibiotics.

How do you treat chigger bites?

We were always told that you had to put nail polish on chigger bites in order to suffocate the chigger that was burrowed inside your skin. Of course, this does not work, because there is no chigger underneath your skin, and the welt is a result of feeding that has already taken place.

There is not much you can do to treat a chigger bite. You can apply calamine lotion for the itch. A topical steroid may accelerate the healing while reducing inflammation. And you may consider taking Benadryl (diphenhydramine) if you are having a more noticeable allergic reaction to the chigger’s enzymes (see more on general treatment of bites and rashes here).

If it appears that your skin is infected (if the red area is growing in diameter, swelling up, and/or is hot to the touch), you should see a doctor as you may need to be prescribed to antibiotics. One of the best ways to avoid infection is to refrain from itching the bite!

Well, there you have it. Chiggers. Mostly irritating, and apparently misunderstood, creatures. Do you have any experience with them? Let us know in the comments.

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{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Skjal December 26, 2014, 5:42 pm

    I was looking around my grandma’s yard, checking the growing carrots and such. I had only heard of one type of mite, so I was fairly surprised and intrigued when I saw some tiny red dots walking on my hands. I brushed them off and didn’t mind much. Since I had already taken a shower that day and didn’t get dirty, I went to sleep without a shower. Next day I woke up all itchy, at first I thought I had mosquito bites. Welp, more than 30 bites all over me (they seem to have only bitten clothed areas tho, my legs/arms/neck don’t have any bites). Next time I see weird bugs, I’ll make sure to take a shower before sleeping!

    • phil June 30, 2015, 10:18 am

      Oh man, bad luck!!! Yeah, that definitely sounds like them. Tiny buggers, but powerful bites!

  • Kristina June 22, 2016, 8:39 pm

    I got chiggers thinking they were mousquito bites but later found put they where chiggers

    • phil July 1, 2016, 1:24 pm

      This is typical for many people

  • Wendi July 8, 2016, 12:31 am

    I have apparently gotten myself into a flock of them sometime this week. It started as one bite, that I thought was just an itchy spot, possibly mosquito, and has now turned into at least 7 so far. The numbers continue to grow as the hours pass. No clue where I got them, but between 4th of July festivities and a funeral for a beloved family member, all has been a whirrr lately. Looks like I’ll be heading to the pharmacy tomorrow for some itch cream.

  • Rick Crace July 29, 2016, 7:27 pm

    Chiggers – sounds like the name of a punk band. Anyone ever infested with a “herd” of chiggers KNOWS TO AVOID THEM! Common sense (long pants – tied at boots + boots + tuck your shirt in) and 40% deet sprayed on all clothing and body parts – not the eyes or lips but cover the naughty bits for sure cause chiggers love naughty bits!
    To shorten the MISERY, if you get chiggers, swim in a chlorinated pool all day or add half a cup of bleach to bath water and soak for a while. And, don’t foget to bathe after being in the weeds. I’ve lived in the chigger capitol of the world my entire life. My uncle was hospitalized once with more than 200 chigger bites – after crawling 50 yards through weeds to scare us while we camped. Respect the chigger, know their habit and habitat. Their bites can itch for a month!

  • Tammy September 5, 2016, 4:56 pm

    Yesterday I developed the itching welts from chiggers and today have counted more than 200 bites. Yes, I am miserable, but what would indicate that I might need to see a doctor?

  • Larry_says June 10, 2017, 4:36 pm

    Ok I have the true actual, factual data on chiggers. See you ready? Ok, good. Now listen, chiggers do latch on to the body for up to 3 to 5 days unless they get removed. So far I know of only 2 ways to remove them. 1 is to scratch/scrape them of but not recommended due to bite infection and more than likely they wont die from it and live to bite again. And 2 is to apply a drop of fingernail polish right on top of where they have bit and are still feeding. The reason why this works and kills them is, are you ready? Well its because while they are feeding for the 5 days they have to breath right? Well the truth is is that this creature breaths from its as.shole and the polish will suffocate them and in a matter of minutes when it has dried you can peel off the polish along with the chigger. Mind you you will still have a welt so might want to apply a first aid spray for itching. And there you have it, the actual factual truth about chiggers and how to kill them while they feast on your body. Good night all, pleasant dreams. 😉

  • Tom Saviano June 26, 2017, 8:59 pm

    I’m 78 years old and have lived in Connecticut, on the Long Island Sound for all that time. When I was young, I heard about Chiggers from friends that were visiting from southern areas like Virginia, North & South Carolina, etc. However, I have never seen or heard of anyone in Fairfield County, Connecticut having had problems with bites. I’ve known people from New York City, Long Island and the surrounding areas, the area around Boston, Mass. and southern New Hampshire and the problem is non-existent in those areas as well. I think that although there may be localized pockets where they exist in the New England area they are not widespread the way they they are in the southern US.

    • phil June 27, 2017, 4:42 am

      I can tell you they are certainly present in large parts of the midwest

  • Sara July 5, 2017, 1:13 am

    I just found a big red spot on my shoulder blade this morning that looks almost exactly like the picture they showed above. It only itched this morning when I found it and hasn’t itched since. Can anyone tell me if it’s still a chigger bite? I was out riding my bike at night the night before don’t know if that is relevant.

  • Steve September 19, 2017, 9:28 am

    I had a few chiggers on my front porch the other night. My mom chased them off with a broom

  • Tim October 14, 2017, 9:27 pm

    Down in Texas we have chiggers! The only way to prevent them is flour of sulfur from an old sock around wrist and ankles before going out in the field. Works evey time.

    • phil October 14, 2017, 10:48 pm

      Good to know. Thanks, Tim.

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