Nothing is more enjoyable than sitting outside on a cool Kansas evening listening to live music and watching the sun set. That is until a couple days later when you realize chiggers showed up at the same party you attended. Over 48 hours, music and breeze-induced peace and relaxation turns into itchy torture. The hungry, invisible insect larvae ruin family picnics, exciting baseball games, plum picking, and a thousand other pleasurable summer activities.
I always thought these miniscule red bugs were actual insects, but after researching them, I’ve discovered they’re larval stages of the harvest mite. In the egg stage and insect stages, these critters could care less about dining on human flesh. Unfortunately, in their in between condition, our bodies are a great choice for a tasty meal.
Another misconception I had was that these guys drink our blood. Nope, that’s a tick and mosquito activity. Chiggers inject enzymes that dissolve flesh. A couple of things go on after this point. Surrounding cells soup up, and nearby skin hardens, often forming a firm bump. This area contains the chigger’s stylostome or feeding tube. Yep, we’re talking bug straw into your liquefied cells. Is that science fiction or what?
I’d also been led to believe that these unseen beings laid eggs in my skin so that painting the irritation with nail polish would suffocate the little devils. No, these are larva. They aren’t sexually mature, so there aren’t any reproductive activities occurring. That intense, sleep disturbing itch is the human body’s reaction to those enzymes turning tissue into consumable goop for these temporary occupants.
It takes about 24 to 48 hours for this chemical reaction to produce the telltale lesions around ankles, behind knees, near underwear and waistband lines, and armpits. (Making people itch in those areas is inspired cruelty, don’tcha think?) As a result, you have to be careful when making assumptions about where your bites originated. It’s best to consider where you were the day or two before when you want to cast aspersions on a specific lawn or park.
To avoid insane torment, you could stay inside. However, you’d miss good times. You could wait until outside conditions were either below 60 degrees F or above 99 degrees F. Temperatures at those extremes tend to dampen fun any way so that’s not a good option. You can liberally use bug spray containing DEET. If you don’t want to do that, you can soap yourself and shower extremely well after an outdoor adventure and hope for the best. Do the same for your clothing so you don’t put old clothes on the next day and reintroduce this problem.
If you are targeted, it’s two or three days of serious annoyance. Unlike ticks and other insect, chiggers don’t inject disease-causing bacteria as ticks do. Infections and complications occur because people scratch, break skin, and introduce infection. It’s best to ignore that particular itch.
Because nothing live is in the bump, it’s useless to coat it with nail polish or other lacquers. Calamine lotion and cortisone cream provide some relief. Benadryl may help, and it can aid people in falling asleep despite nagging reminders of the good time that was.
My great grandpa was sure chiggers had to be one of the greatest curses sharing our planet. I agree. It’s a sad day when you won’t trek through tall grasses because you might pick up invisible critters that make your life miserable for a week.