Where do chiggers live? How to identify and prevent chigger bites

Woman applies bug repellent spray

A chigger bite can be painful and itchy. Fortunately, chiggers don’t stay attached to their human host long (photo by enciero/shutterstock.com)

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We moved a lot when I was young. 

Sometimes we lived a city life. 

At other points, my upbringing was decidedly rural. During these times, the local forests and fields were my playground. 

My friends and I would disappear for hours on end, exploring, discovering, doing whatever the dictates of our flights of fancy demanded. 

We spent part of one summer – in woods that none of our families had legal claim to – chopping down trees and bushes to expand a walking trail into something we could race our scooters down. 

When you live your life in the woods and the fields and you are young enough not to learn the lessons life provides, you spend quite a lot of your summer itchy. 

Poison ivy and poison oak. 

Mosquitoes. Chiggers. 

To this day, if I see a tiny red dot moving in the grass, which happens decidedly less in adulthood than it did when I was a boy, a cold shiver runs down my spine. 

God created many wonderful creatures with a wide array of purposes. I think the chigger is a demon spawn that escaped from the netherworld. That’s why it’s red. 

On the one hand, chiggers are the most acceptable of life’s parasitic pests. 

Unlike mosquitoes or ticks, they carry no diseases. There are no long-term physical health defects from a chigger.

However, on the other hand, it’s miserable to go to bed at night with your legs soaked in calamine lotion and your hands taped into oven mitts to lessen your ability to scratch.

Chigger or Trombicula
Trombicula autumnalis, known as the harvest mite or autumn chigger, is a species of mite of the family, trombiculidae (photo by psgsuthar/shutterstock.com)

What are chiggers? 

If you’re looking for a more textbook definition, they are little red mites in the same class as spiders. They are also known as spider mites, berry bugs, harvest mites, bush mites, red bugs and scrub itch mites.

When in the larval stage, they target and feed on humans, snakes and small mammals. Their bites cause itchy hives, blisters, pimples or just red bumps. 

Read Also: Are there scorpions in the Smoky Mountains?

Are chiggers dangerous? 

Other than to your sanity, probably not. However, recent studies suggest chiggers could possibly carry alpha-gal.

Chiggers don’t stay attached to their human host long and will not infest your home. They don’t burrow or bite to consume a blood meal as a tick or mosquito would. 

They will, however, drive you up the dang wall with their itchy bites. And if a person does too much scratching of that affected area, people with chigger bites can end up with secondary infections. 

Read Also: Does Tennessee have mosquitoes? What state does not have mosquitoes?

Why do they bite?

Chiggers bite in the larval stage. One hatched, they live in tall grass and leaves and wait for a host. And when they bite, they inject a substance into the host’s skin cells that cause the aforementioned symptoms.

They then eat the skin cells which helps them grow into adults.

Once they exit the larval stage, an adult chigger mite doesn’t bite or cause any other issues other than laying more eggs that become chigger larvae. 

Hiking path
Staying on the trail is a good way to help avoid chiggers (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

Where do chiggers live? 

In my nightmares, rent-free. 

Actually, chiggers like moist areas near thick vegetation. They like fields with tall grassy areas or wooded areas. Chigger habitats include places where there is a lot of leaf litter and dense vegetation often near creeks or streams.  

Do chiggers infest a house?

No. Generally, they’re not looking to set up camp in your home.

Chigger populations will be found in the places mentioned above. If you have a chigger infestation it will be outside in the yard or near your trees. 

How can you tell if you have chiggers? 

Adult chiggers are bright red and look a little like a tick – in my opinion. But when chiggers are in the larval stage, they are 0.15 to .03 mm in size, so you are not likely to see than at all, unless you have a magnifying glass.

And today, scientists believe you are likely to see the results of the bites after the chiggers have moved on.

Young chiggers will have six legs while in their juvenile forms. An adult chigger will have eight legs like a spider. Sometimes you’ll see chiggers moving, other times they will appear as a stationary bright red dot. 

Repellant and Anti-Itch Products
Use repellent before heading out and keep some anti-itch remedies around the house for relief (photo by Kim Grayson/TheSmokies.com)

What are the symptoms of chigger bites?  

Once they’ve compromised the host’s skin, it takes about three hours for the symptoms to occur. 

Symptoms include: 

  • intense, severe itching
  • red bumps 
  • vesicles (blisters)
  • red or reddish welts
  • red spots

The symptoms will occur near the surface of the skin, often around the ankles, feet, legs and near the armpits, belt line or the groin.

Basically, any place where the human skin presents a nice, comfortable warm or moist fold where larvae can take a break. It’s like Panama City for mites. 

What can I do for a chigger bite? 

First, take a warm shower as soon as possible. Wash vigorously with soapy water, especially in the creases. Take your clothes and whatever else may have been exposed and wash them in hot water.

I was going to suggest taking them outside and burning them. But I’m told that’s excessive. 

After that, use whatever is your anti-itch go-to. As I said, I spent much of my youth keeping the calamine lotion industry in business. However, I imagine any type of over-the-counter antihistamine would help. 

If your symptoms linger for more than a few days and/or your bite areas get worse or appear infected, it would be wise to consult a healthcare provider who can help with the recovery.

A woman applies mosquito repellent
A woman sprays repellent before a hike (photo by encierro/shutterstock.com)

How can I prevent chigger bites? 

Never go outside again. Just kidding. However, if you must go outside, get an insect repellent that works on chiggers.

Unlike ticks, chiggers prefer getting inside your tight socks and crawling under your clothing. Use repellent directly on your skin under your socks and also on your clothing before heading out to the woods or tall grass. If hiking, staying on the trail is also helpful.

You can also purchase protective clothing that will help ward off chiggers and other pests. If you have an infestation in your yard, there are a variety of products, insecticide sprays or services that will help clear the little monsters from the yard.  

In a temperate climate, chiggers are most likely to bug you in the summer, when the weather is warm. Pun intended.

Why do chiggers exist? 

It’s a circle of life thing. I’m told they serve an essential role in the ecosystem.

And while they bother us during the juvenile stages – once they become adult chiggers they leave us alone and eat invertebrates in the soil that might otherwise impact the food and forest ecosystems.  

Are you bothered by chigger bites? What is your remedy? Let us know in the comments.

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