Got Chiggers? It Figures!

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

from a relatively short exposure to chiggers.

Unlike ticks, to which they are related, chiggers are fragile. A shower or bath following exposure to chiggers will remove most of them. If a bath isn't available, a brisk toweling down should dislodge or crush most of them. And you better change your bedding, if you've suddenly ran to the shower after feeling infested during the night.

Avoiding chiggers is difficult because you can't see them. In Missouri, chiggers bustle about from April to October. During the summer, peak activity times are around dawn and dusk and during mid-morning, as the temperature rises into the high 70s and low 80s-their apparent preferred range-and before the sun has had a chance to burn off the evening dew.

Chiggers need both moisture and shade. They tend to be more abundant during rainy spells. During the heat of the afternoon or during long dry spells, they may retreat into the soil. Overcast or humid days seem to draw them out en masse.

The worst places for chiggers are where grass or weeds grow tall enough or thick enough to shade sunlight from the soil. Lake shorelines, river banks and wood edges are notorious chigger haunts.

Chigger larvae tend to occur in clumps, what you might call "mite islands." One spot in a field may be full of chiggers, but a similar spot nearby may not have any. Do you feel lucky?

Any contact with vegetation has the potential to allow chiggers to climb onto you. When you sit or recline on the grass, you make it easier for chiggers by letting them climb aboard at several body terminals. Brushing against trailside branches or weeds or leaning into brush to pick berries invites a chigger infestation.

You can identify chigger hotspots on your lawn by placing a 6-inch square of black cardboard on edge in the grass. Return a bit later and examine the upper edge with a hand lens. If chiggers are present, they will crawl to the top of the piece, where their minute reddish or orangish bodies will be visible against the black edge. Observers also have reported spotting chigger larvae against the background of their polished black shoes.

Chiggers can infiltrate the weave of most fabrics, but you can reduce the numbers that reach your skin by wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants with the cuffs tucked into your socks. Those extremely sensitive to chigger bites should pretreat their clothes

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