Chiggers Are Small Yet Sneaky Little Buggers: Here’s What You Need to Know

published Jul 31, 2015
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(Image credit: Deba Machado)

Chiggers (or red bugs) are tiny little mites that easily escape notice, but leave a lasting legacy in the form of red welts on your skin that will itch for days and drive you nuts. Summer is prime chigger season, so read up on how to deal with them around the house, and what to do if you get bitten.

Chiggers love to get you in your body’s tender sweaty spots, namely the undersides of your arms, knees, belly and – yes – your private areas. Chiggers wander over your body, and once they find their special spot, inject enzymes to soften the tissue, then suck up all that liquified tasty goodness. Left alone, they will feed for 3-4 days, but since they brush off fairly easily, this is pretty uncommon.

Here’s the good news. They don’t live in the house, so you won’t encounter an inside infestation. Chiggers survive best outside, in darker spots such as tall grassy or bushy areas. They love overgrown lawns, ground covers, leaf litter, weedy areas, and densely planted shrubs or trees. They also are big fans of humidity, and thrive in the Southeast and parts of the Midwest. Chiggers are found in large clusters, which can result in a large number of bites on a single person.

If you want to discourage chigger parties from congregating on your property, do the following:

  • Keep your grass short, especially around the edges where the grass meets landscape beds or woody areas, and regularly prune shrubs and trees
  • Eliminate dark, shady places where chiggers can hide from sunlight
  • Weed and remove organic debris where chiggers might live, or where small animals will burrow and serve as chigger hosts.
  • Immediately wash outdoor clothing to kill any lingering pests

Chiggers hate certain smells, so if you want to repel the little buggers, try sprinkling sulphur powder on your socks before you go for a walk or hike (if you yourself can stand the smell that is). Regular mosquito repellant should also do the trick. Otherwise, cover up with long pants and sleeves, preferably with elastic, when you head outdoors. After a walk, rub yourself down with a towel to get rid of any freeloaders, or take a bath immediately to dislodge them.

If you find yourself with chigger bites, head for the pharmacy for antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams or lotion. Growing up in Florida, we always covered them up with a dab of clear fingernail polish. At the time I believed this deprived burrowing bugs of air, but this was a total myth. Chiggers don’t in fact burrow, but the polish might provide a few minutes of relief from itching. That’s about it.

They also don’t carry nasty diseases like Lyme, so yay for that.