Sure, they’re tiny – but if you’ve ever been bitten by a chigger, you know that these creatures are incredibly mighty.
The chigger is a type of mite that really packs a wallop in its bite. Also known as harvest lice, harvest mites, and red bugs, chiggers are members of the arachnid family and can be found all over the world.
I feel like every year, there are all kinds of pests that I have to contend with on my farm. From houseflies to cutworms, tomato hornworms to housebound ladybugs, there’s no shortage of creepy-crawlies that I’m trying to get rid of (and without using pesticides, no less).
Getting rid of chiggers can be a challenge, particularly without the use of strong chemicals – but it can be done.
And there’s plenty of reason to, too. Their bites are annoying and itchy, making it hard to get anything done during the day on the farm.
The bites might not be dangerous, but they’re irritating. Fortunately, if you’re looking for an easy way to get rid of chiggers – as well as how to identify and prevent them – you’ve come to the right place.
Table of Contents:
What Are Chiggers?
Chiggers are small, parasitic mites that live in tall grasses. This pesto is a member of a larger family of insects known as Trombiculidae.
These pests bite in the larval stage and are usually a bright red to brown in color.
Too small to see with the naked eye, chiggers leave behind painful bites that usually appear a couple of houses after the attack – they can last for weeks.
They are common in low, damp areas such as grasslands, woodlands, orchards, berry bushes, and even lawns. They are most numerous in the spring to early summer.
Chiggers are found all over the world, but are most common in the lower portions of the American midwest as long as in the southeast and south.
Fortunately, where I live in the north, chiggers are not common. They prefer living in warm, moist conditions, which is ideal for breeding – rather than places with long, cold winters.
You will also find chiggers in South America’s low-elevation grasslands, in the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Fortunately, in North America, chiggers aren’t known to transmit any disease.
However, in Africa, Asia, and Australia, chiggers can transmit many insect-borne diseases, like tropical typhus.
Signs and Symptoms of Chigger Bites
Chiggers bites are produced by mite larvae, not the actual adults. The larvae are extremely tiny and red in color, only growing at about 1/120th of an inch in size. You usually cannot see them with your naked eye.
Although larger chigger mites are visible, they don’t feed on people – so if you see one on your skin, don’t panic.
Starting first thing in the spring, chigger mites will lay eggs that hatch into fast-moving larvae with six legs. These Larson will climb up onto vegetation, looking for prey.
Then, they will attach themselves to their victims with their sharp claws, piercing your skin and injecting their saliva. This saliva will liquefy the skin cells of the host.
After feeding, the larvae will drop off and develop into eight-legged nymphs and then into adults.
Sound unpleasant? That’s because it is! And unfortunately, you’re not the only thing that chiggers want to feed on.
These pests will also feed on cats, reptiles, dogs, birds, and other animals, too. In general, chiggers will feed on a single human host for up to four days.
If you are bitten by a chigger, you will probably know it shortly thereafter. These pests’ bites leave behind red welts with hard white centers.
They itch intensely and can sometimes cause related symptoms like fever and swelling. This usually comes about as an allergic reaction to the saliva of the mite.
Symptoms generally appear about three to six hours after the chiggers have latched on to your skin, but they can last as long as a week (sometimes more).
Although they aren’t dangerous in themselves, itching and scratching the bites can lead to a secondary infection.
Think you might have been bitten by a chigger – bug not sure? Knowing when chigger bites are most likely to occur can help you narrow down the potential cause.
Chigger bites are most likely to happen in the late spring to summer, typically if you’ve spent some time near grass or other vegetation.
Unlike ticks, who prefer to hang out in the shade, chiggers like being in the sun. Therefore, you’re more likely to be bitten by chiggers if you’ve been hanging out somewhere like a grassy field versus in the dense woods.
They will usually attach in places where your clothes hug your body tightly, like around your waist, or where your flesh is thin and wrinkled, like around your elbows and knees or even in your groin or armpits.
How to Prevent Chiggers
1. Wear Mite Repellent Clothing
Wearing mite repellent clothing might not necessarily get rid of chiggers, but it can help prevent them from biting you.
One of the easiest ways to prevent bites is to wear long sleeves and long pants. You can also go one step further and invest in insect-repellent pants and socks.
These are treated with chemicals (usually permethrin) so they might not be the best option if you are trying to live a chemical-free lifestyle. However, they are incredibly effective.
2. Clean Up Vegetation
One of the most effective ways to keep chiggers away from you and your property is to make sure things are kept clean and tidy.
As a bonus, this will help repel so many other kinds of pests, too. Chiggers are drawn to tall grasses and other overgrown areas, so taking the time to mow scrubby grass and vegetation will help you get rid of chiggers and prevent them from coming back.
If you are walking through an area of dense vegetation, try to walk in the center of a well-traveled trail.
That way, you won’t brush up against tall grasses where chiggers might be hiding. You can also tuck your pant legs into your boots or shoes, too.
3. Wear Insect Repellent
Again, not the best if you want to avoid using chemicals, but wearing insect repellent when working outside is one of the best ways to prevent yourself from being bitten by chiggers.
You will need to use something that contains DEET on both your clothing and your skin. It might need to be reapplied every few hours or so, sometimes more if you are sweating profusely.
4. Check Your Pets
Chiggers can hitch a ride on your unsuspecting pets, too. On dogs and cats, you’ll usually find chiggers on the inside of their ears.
Bathing your pets thoroughly and regularly, particularly after they’ve been outside for some time, is the best way to get rid of chiggers and relieve your pets’ discomfort.
Fortunately, people don’t usually get chiggers from interacting with their pets.
5. Wash Clothing After Coming Inside
If you have been working in an area where chiggers are likely to live, take the time to strip down outdoors and then wash your clothes thoroughly in hot water.
This will reduce the likelihood of bringing chiggers inside and giving them a place to stay.
Treating Chigger Bites
If you find chiggers on your skin, the best way to get rid of them is to lather with soap and hot water. You may have to wash several times to get them off your body.
Then, you can use any kind of anti-itch medication, like calamine or hydocortisone cream. Aloe vera can also be helpful.
Wash your clothing thoroughly in hot, soapy water to get rid of chiggers in your clothes. Do a thorough check all over your body to make sure no more chiggers remain.
Because chiggers don’t actually burrow into your skin, attaching themselves with their sharp jaws, you will need to be extremely thorough in washing every inch of your body.
You might also want to use an antiseptic around the bites to help prevent secondary infection. Taking an over the counter antihistamine or applying a cold compress can help relieve itching.
Unfortunately even after the chiggers are removed from your body and clothing, the bites will linger – and they can be itchy and uncomfortable for several days.
Getting Rid of Chiggers
1. Hunt Them Down
Your first step in getting rid of chiggers is to hunt them down. Chiggers prefer moist areas of thick vegetation, so check those places first.
They like full sun but they also can be hiding in shadier spots. However, you can probably skip areas where the lawn is mowed short.
Set out with a square of black cardboard, ideally about 6×6 inches. More squares is better – then, you can lay the squares on edge in areas where you suspect a nasty chigger infestation.
Leave these squares there for a few minutes, then take a close look at the cardboard.
If there are chiggers, you’ll see them clustered there. Since they are yellow, brown, or red in color, you should be able to see them against the black backdrop (at least, adult chiggers, that is – the younger ones might be harder to see).
You can also put out a shallow bowl of water. Set this in the grass, where chiggers are most common.
They’ll flock to the water as they seek out a drink, but you might need a magnifying glass to see them.
2. Cut Back Vegetation
Again, the easiest way to get rid of chiggers, just as it is to prevent them, is to cut back any dense vegetation.
You rarely need to use pesticides to get rid of chiggers, but you will need to do some serious yard work.
Tackle areas that are dense and overgrown, along with leaf litter, groundcover weedy areas, and shrubs or trees that are densely planted. They’ll cluster here as they lay their eggs in one location.
Mow your lawn regularly and keep it as short as possible – particularly around edges. Keep any raised or landscaping beds weeding and get rid of piles of leaf litter (your compost pile is a great place to dispose of these)!
If you have any landscaping plants, prune and trim them regularly so that they don’t become overgrown.
Remove brush piles or overhanging branches, too – these are also common areas for chiggers to hang out.
3. Get Rid of Chiggers Indoors
Chiggers don’t usually set up shop inside a house, but if you happen to bring some inside by mistake, either on your pets’ fur or on you brown clothing, the easiest way to get rid of them is to clean any affected area with hot, soapy water (you want the water to be at least 120 degrees).
You can use a carpet cleaner and shampooer with a heat setting, too. Vacuum regularly to keep them from coming back.
4. Be Cautious With Pesticides
Many people automatically turn to a broad application of pesticides when chiggers are a problem, but rarely is this necessary.
If you feel like you must use pesticides, consult with your local cooperative extension office first. They’ll be able to sell you which kinds of products work best on the chiggers in your area.
You should follow all directions on the labels clearly and only treat areas of your yard where you know for sure there are chiggers.
Don’t overuse pesticides and apply them in places where you might not have any chiggers in the first place, as this can kill beneficial insects, too.
Be Vigilant and Tidy to Get Rid of Chiggers
Chiggers are not fun to deal with by any means, but fortunately, unlike some other types of pests, they aren’t tough to get rid of.
The number one easy way to get rid of chiggers? Just stay on top of your lawn care chores. By maintaining a clean, tidy lawn, your likelihood of having to deal with annoying (yet mostly harmless) chigger bites is slim to none.
If you do, though, don’t panic – the itching will eventually stop, and as long as you take steps to get rid of chiggers on your property in the future, this isn’t a problem you should have to worry about again.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).