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Delta Journal
by Bob Thomas

Chigger is a colloquial name for all mite species that afflict humans. Most mites are not chiggers, so they don’t cause the irritation described below. For those that do give us fits, it is the larval form – not the adult - that causes problems.

Chiggers do not actually bite. They simply spit up a small amount of fluid containing enzymes that dissolve and digest proteins. After spitting up on you, they suck up the predigested tissue as their food - in our case, a bit of us. The larvae keep doing this until they reach live cells in the epidermis, which respond like they do to any invasion by getting irritated. The irritation eventually results in a red itchy bump that we refer to as “chiggers,” but the bump is technically known as a stylostome.

The stylostome is an attempt by one’s body to protect itself by creating what one might think of as a straw, a tube the chigger creates through the skin while it feeds. The chigger is content spitting into the straw and sucking up dissolved cells. It either eats enough and drops off the body or is killed when its prey scratches uncontrollably.

The stylostome, not the chigger, itches, swells, and can become infected – and very uncomfortable

Chigger larvae are waiting for us in grassy areas. They instinctively climb up stems and wait patiently for a mammal to walk by and brush against them.

They get on one’s legs, and usually migrate to warm, moist, soft tissue. That is why one is likely to get chiggers under socks and around the waistband, rather than on arms and legs.

If a place is heavily infested, it is hard to avoid chiggers. The best thing to do is wear long pants tucked into boots or socks, and either sprayed with insect repellent or, better, dusted with sulfur powder. It helps to shower and change clothes on returning from an outing.

If one becomes infested with chiggers, avoid scratching (easier said than done), which opens the stylostome and possibly leads to infection. The best remedy is to cover each stylostome with a dab of clear fingernail polish, thus suffocating the critter and sealing the stylostome so that it is less likely to get infected. Yes, in an emergency, you can use red polish – if you don’t mind being polka-dotted.

If and when you do get chiggers, consider it an honor to be part of the food chain! Not happy, just honored.