If you think you’ve got chiggers it can be a creepy feeling. If you’ve been bitten by them, the intense itching can drive you almost to the point of distraction.
Whether you think you’ve got them or it’s been confirmed, either way, it can be a devastating experience.
So, exactly what are chiggers? How can you identify chiggers and get rid of them once you know you’ve got them? Keep on reading and we’ll walk you through it.
This Pest Strategies guide will cover the following:
- What are chiggers?
- Are chiggers dangerous?
- What do chiggers look like?
- And tips for getting rid of and repelling chiggers!
And if you want to get straight to our top suggestions for getting rid of chiggers, you can click here!
What Are Chiggers?
Chiggers are small parasites that cause a strong painful itching after they “bite” you. They don’t feed on your blood like mosquitoes or bed bugs though.
Instead of biting they insert their mouth parts into your exposed skin and squirt their digestive fluids (their spit) into the cells to dissolve them. They drink the resulting fluids for their protein content.
The larvae are the only ones that attack people and animals. On people, they typically leave red stinging welts on the ankles, crotch, groin, armpits, and the backs of the knees. Adult chiggers feed on insects and their eggs.
The female lays her eggs in the spring in soft, moist soil. When the eggs hatch, the larvae crawl up grass stems and from there onto animals and people who pass through.
Take a look at the video below for more information on chiggers:
Are Chiggers Poisonous or Dangerous?
No, they’re not poisonous in the sense of injecting a venom that causes sickness or death. However, when they inject their digestive fluids into the skin, it causes a strong, painful reaction as the fluids dissolve the cells. It’s more like acid than a poison.
If enough of the larvae attack you, the painful itching can become quite intense and distracting, but at no point should it ever become dangerous or life-threatening. You’ll need to use some calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itching though.
What Do Chiggers Look Like & How Do I Identify Chiggers?
They’re usually a bright red color, which does not come from feeding on blood. After feeding the larvae turn yellow. The larvae have six legs and the adults have eight legs. Under magnification, they have the same general shape and appearance as other mites.
The only time you’ll normally be able to see chiggers with the naked eye is when a group of them clump together. Otherwise, you’ll probably never see them, even the adults.
What Other Names Are Chiggers Referred To As?
Chiggers have a variety of names; red bugs, harvest mites, berry bug, scrub-itch, aoutas, midge, and their scientific name, Trombiculidae mites.
What Are Chiggers Commonly Mistaken For?
The main reason chiggers are misidentified is due to their small size. Because they’re so difficult to see, people will often blame any bites on whatever pest they’re familiar with. It’s a very common misunderstanding. Let’s take a look at the top three.
Chiggers Vs. No-see-ums (Biting Midges)
No-see-ums, also known as biting midges (Culicoides spp.) don’t look anything like chiggers. Their abdomen is red with nine segments and shaped more like a wasp than a chigger. Their wings are flat like a wasp too. The wings and head are a grayish-blue.
No-see-ums feed on blood rather than dissolved skin cells, so their mode of feeding is different. In fact, everything about them is different. So why are they confused with chiggers?
The confusion arises because of their size. They’re less than 1/8" in size and so lightly colored as to be nearly invisible, hence the name. Since chiggers are also difficult to see due to their diminutive size, people being bitten often become confused about which pest is attacking them.
The main way to tell the difference is the habitat. No-see-ums are found in salt marshes, around wet manure from farm animals, and in extremely damp soil that is near but not underwater.
The other give-away is that no-see-ums can fly and land on areas of your body where chiggers aren’t normally found, such as arms, wrists, neck, face, ears, and exposed areas of your back and legs. You don’t have to be pushing through tall grass to be attacked by no-see-ums either.
Chiggers Vs. Bed Bugs
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) actually look a lot like chiggers but are much larger and easily visible to the naked eye. They’re red parasites, they feed on human blood, and leave red marks similar to those left by chiggers.
Like chiggers, bed bugs don’t have wings so they have to crawl onto their host in order to feed. The confusion comes from the fact that bed bugs attack at night while you’re sleeping in bed – hence the name – so most people never see them, particularly during the early stages of an infestation.
The bites don’t itch at first, leading to confusion about when the bite marks appeared. Without knowing when or where they were bitten, it’s easy for people to become confused about the identity of the pest doing the biting.
The main way to tell the difference between a bed bug bite and a chigger bite is the intensity of the itching. Many people never report any itchiness from bed bug bites, but chigger bites always itch. It’s very noticeable too. With chiggers, there’s never any doubt that something has bitten you.
If you have red bite marks on your body that don’t itch or only itch a little, the chances are it’s bed bugs rather than chiggers. You’ve still got a serious problem that we can help you with, but it’s not chiggers.
Chiggers Vs. Gnats
Gnats are a common name often misused to refer to a large number of different biting and non-biting flies and other tiny pests. Our staff at Pest Strategies includes a number of licensed pest control professionals and they’ve encountered this problem too many times to count.
A customer would call with a complaint about “gnats” biting them, a bug man would be sent out only to discover the problem was something else entirely. This isn’t a unique situation. Any pest control technician in America could tell you the same story.
People understand that “ant” refers to a specific type of insect. They understand that “spider” refers to a specific set of 8-legged creatures. They know what roaches are, what earwigs are, as well as bees, wasps, termites, beetles, and dozens of others.
But somehow, in the public mind, gnats and chiggers have become generic, interchangeable terms. As such, they are often confused with each other.
To avoid that mistake, always remember gnats can fly and chiggers can’t. If something is flying and buzzing around you, it’s not chiggers.
What Attracts Chiggers to You and Your Yard
Chiggers are known to live in tall grass, dense bushes, thickets of small trees, and brambles. They require a habitat that’s slightly humid and warm, conditions which exist in wide-spread areas of the South and lower Midwest of the United States. During the summer, they can appear almost anywhere though.
They’re attracted by soft, moist soil conditions, grass clippings, leaf clippings, loose thatch, and piles of leaves and other organic matter. The female lays her eggs in those environments and the larvae hatch out about a week later.
Remember, it’s only the larvae that are the parasitic form feeding on host animals and people. The adults aren’t attracted to you at all. They’re attracted to the environment in your yard.
If you mow your yard and don’t have a bag on your lawnmower, the grass clippings you leave behind will create a perfect habitat for them. Furthermore, every time you water the lawn, the clippings will help retain the moisture chiggers are drawn to.
They’re opportunistic feeders, attaching themselves to any host animal coming through their territory. Because they’re related to spiders, they can’t fly or jump, which is why they prefer tall grass or shrubs that brush against people or animals. It’s easy for them to transfer from the grass to your pants leg.
Known as harvest mites in the larval stage of their life cycle, they’re so small, only 1/150th of an inch, they’re nearly invisible unless you use a magnifying glass.
You won’t feel the initial bite and even after you do, you probably won’t be able to see them anyway. We keep mentioning this because many people falsely claim they can see chiggers biting them and it’s not true. If you can see something with the naked eye, it’s almost certainly not chiggers.
How to Get Rid of Chiggers (Most Popular Method)
The best way to get rid of chiggers is to stop them before get on you. Prevention is always easier than cure. Preventing chiggers from biting you is a two-step process involving clothes and a repellent. We’ll look at clothes first.
When you’re preparing to head for the great outdoors, dress appropriately. Any place that is damp with tall grass and/or lots of bushy areas is a perfect habitat for chiggers.
Don’t wear shorts, sandals, T-shirts, or tank tops. It’s tempting to dress down during the warm summer months but as soon as you start pushing through the grass or bushes, chigger larvae will be able to crawl directly onto your skin and start snacking on you.
Wear boots, long knee-high socks, blue jeans that come down over your boot tops, and a long-sleeve shirt. Loose weave clothes will be permeable to chiggers because of their small size, always be sure to wear clothes that have a tight weave.
Keep your blue jeans or trousers pulled down over the top of your boots. It may be cool to leave them bunched up at the top of your boots, but it’s an open invitation to chiggers. Also, don’t roll up your long sleeves. That defeats the purpose of wearing them.
Some researchers advocate tucking your pants into your boots but we disagree. Doing that allows the chiggers to fall down into your boots, thereby making their job easier. We recommend pulling your pants legs down over your boots.
Once you’ve come home, remove your clothes outside if possible and immediately wash them in hot water then dry them on high heat to kill any chiggers that may be on them.
Dress in stages, spraying bug repellent on your clothes as you go. Put on your socks and spray them with a good repellent.
Spray a little bit around the inside of your boots at the top. If your boots are lace-up boots, wait until you’ve got them on and laced, then spray them. If they’re pull-on boots, you can spray them before or after you get them on, it doesn’t matter.
Put on your pants and shirt. Spray your pants legs from the bottom all the way up. Spray the sleeves of your shirt from the cuff all the way up. Once your shirt is tucked in and your belt is fastened, spray the front and back of your torso.
Best Repellent to Repel Chiggers
Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent is our top pick for repelling and killing chiggers. It can be sprayed on both your skin and clothes. It’s not greasy or sticky and it won’t stain your clothes, backpacks, watches, fishing line, or other outdoor equipment.
This repellent comes in a spray form or a lotion (this one is the spray) and uses 20% Picaridin as the active ingredient. It’s an alternative to DEET (since 2005) that has been increasingly popular in Europe and in America.
It will last for up to 8 full hours. It repels chiggers as well as a variety of the biting pests such as mosquitoes, gnats, biting flies, and sand flies. It even has a pleasant odor when it’s applied. Finally, it’s safe for anyone over two months old.
Best Product For Killing Chiggers
The best spray to kill chiggers in your yard is Talstar PL Granules. These granules are water-activated which is what you need in the moist areas chiggers prefer. The active ingredient is Bifenthrin, a pesticide with a long and successful track record.
You’ll need to get a hand-powered spreader to spread the granules. Each 25-pound bag of granules should be enough to cover 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. Start at your house and circle it in a gradually increasing spiral until you’ve covered the entire yard.
Each application of granules will last for approximately three months before you have to spread more. The nice thing about the granules is that they can be used throughout the entire year, rain, snow, or shine, not only against chiggers but other pests as well.
Other Pest Guides
Curious about other pest-related articles? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.