If you’ve ever seen a teeny tiny red bug that looks a little like a spider crawling on your skin or somewhere in your home or backyard, in addition to being horrified, you also might wonder what, exactly, you’re looking at. Or, probably even more likely, you won’t notice these pests until they’ve left large pink bites behind on your skin. These are called “chiggers,” and they’re not technically even insects: They are immature mites that are approximately 1/150th of an inch long. And, depending on where you live, you may also know them as berry bugs, harvest mites, and red bugs.
If you’re spending part of the pandemic gardening in the yard or out on camping trips you should be aware that these little bites will have you scratching yourself raw if you don’t treat them asap. While they can be found all over the country, they’re most common in the Southeast and Midwest. So now that you know the chigger basics, how do you get rid of these gross, annoying parasites? Here’s what you need to know.
Where Do Chiggers Live?
Chiggers love tall grasses, brambles, and weeds, or any other dense vegetation. “Chiggers are most abundant in vegetational transition zones such as the junction of forest and grass, in swampy areas and thickets,” Jim Fredericks, PhD, chief entomologist and vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association told Reader’s Digest. As we mentioned, they can and do live anywhere in the U.S., but prefer places in the Midwest and Southeast — and their location also determines how long they’ll stick around. For instance, they are most active in places like Michigan for around two months (usually towards the end of summer), but are there year-round in Florida.
Do Some Landscaping
We’re not talking about anything fancy here, but by clearing the weeds, brush, and tall grasses from your yard, you can take away their homes and hiding places. This is especially true if you have any areas that are overgrown — that’s like a chigger wonderland. “Homeowners should remove brush and thickets, and be sure to keep the lawn mowed, as these tactics will help reduce chigger populations,” Fredericks added. In fact, keeping your grass short does more than add curb appeal to your home: per the article, it also raises soil temperatures and lowers the humidity, meaning that chiggers are less likely to make their home in your yard.
Keep Them Off Your Body
The most annoying thing about chiggers is that they bite. If you’re not sure what a chigger bite looks like, it can take the form of welts, blisters, pimples, or hives. If you notice a bright red dot in the center of a bite, it’s a remnant of the tube your skin formed in response to the chigger’s saliva. (Sorry.)
So how do chiggers get the opportunity to bite you in the first place? They usually latch onto humans when we’re walking through wooded areas, or places with tall grasses, weeds, or brush. We usually don’t feel the bite until a few hours after the parasite latched onto us. To avoid these, try to stick to the middle of trails when walking in the woods, and wearing long-sleeves and pants whenever possible (and socks to keep them from biting your ankles). Also, spray insect or tick repellant on your clothes for extra protection.
FIY: Chiggers Spread Disease
As if unwanted bites weren’t enough of a deterrant to avoid these pesky little bugs, the CDC reports they are responsible for spreading disease, specifically, scrub typhus. Per the CDC, scrub typhus — sometimes known as bush typhus — is caused by the bacteria Orientia tsutsugamushi and is spread by the bites of infected chiggers. Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, and fever and should be treated with antibiotics.
Treat the Bites
If you did end up with a bite or two from an outdoor adventure, hop in the shower as soon as you can, and scrub the areas where you were bitten with soap and water. After that, put on some antiseptic cream and/or hydrocortisone cream to both help with the itching and make sure that if you do over-scratch, it won’t get infected.
What if Chiggers Bite Your Pet?
A chigger bite can cause extreme itching in pets and love warm, moist areas like skin folds — this makes dogs like Shar Peis extremely susceptible. Once a chigger bite damages the skin around it, it has a higher risk of infection, especially in pets who may continue to scratch in discomfort.
So, what can you do? You can bathe your dog in some Epsom salt (same goes for you, if you’re the one with the bite), try a wrapped ice pack, or some oatmeal. Either way, you should still consult your pet’s veterinarian as they’ll be able to take a closer look at the sore or infected area.