Farm Talk

July 2, 2013

Avoid hosting chiggers this season


Parsons, Kansas — Now that summer is in full swing, I thought it might be a good time to pass along a bit of interesting information on a little critter that you may have already encountered this year — the chigger. This may especially be the case if you have been out roaming around in prime chigger habitat. While you might encounter chiggers just about anywhere outdoors, they really like to hang out in damp shady areas with tall grass and weeds.

Here are a few interesting facts about chiggers that you thought you’d probably never know. It is the tiny 6-legged larval stage chiggers that bite us, and they're only 1/150 to 1/120 inch long —barely visible to people with excellent eyesight. Chiggers do not suck blood, and they do not burrow into the skin.  Rather, they attach their mouth part to the skin surface, often in a hair follicle or a pore, and secrete saliva that digests skin cells. Localized reactions and severe itching soon occur. The bites may occur anywhere on the body; but they are often most numerous on body sites where shoes or clothing fit tightly — ankles, backs of knees, crotch, waist, belt line, wrist, and armpits. People react in varying degrees.

After hatching, chigger larvae climb up onto grass blades, twigs, or other objects, from which they can more readily snag a passing host. After feeding for two to four days, the larvae drop from the host, undergo a molting process, and become nymphs. Nymphs and adults are not parasitic.  They are predators on small insects, other mites, and their eggs.

Chigger larvae can penetrate through many types of clothing; but high boots and trousers of tightly woven fabric, tucked into stockings or boots, help deter them.  Many people swear by the use of sulfur dust or flowers of sulfur applied liberally to shoes, stocking, pant cuffs and even beltlines to deter the onslaught of chiggers.  More popular are various commercial repellents applied to the tops of shoes or boots, stocking tops, and pant cuffs. If you're going into taller vegetation, also apply repellent to waist, zippered or buttoned fly, collar, and cuffs. Apply enough to dampen but not saturate the material. The best chigger repellents contain either deet or permethrin. The permethrin-based repellents can be effective for several days, whereas the deet-based repellents are effective for only a few hours.

Cotton and wool garments absorb repellent better than other materials. Repellents may damage some synthetic fabrics as well as some plastics used in shoe tops, watch bands, glasses, etc. Be sure to read the instructions carefully before applying any repellent.  Some people may have dangerous reactions to inhalation of aerosol repellents. Very few people (probably fewer than one in a million) may be seriously harmed by repellents applied to the skin or to clothing that comes in contact with skin.

Upon returning from areas that are potentially chigger-infested, shower thoroughly with several soapings and rinsings. Even if chiggers are attached they can usually be readily washed off by taking a warm and soapy shower. Also, be sure to wash chigger infested garments before wearing them again.

There are several treatments available to treat chigger bites. Some people swear by such household substances as rubbing alcohol, camphor, or calamine lotion to relieve the itching of the bites. There are many commercial treatments that are also available. Keep in mind, to stop the itching the treatment needs to seal the bite from air. A treatment that will seal the bite and also contains an antihistamine can be even more effective. For exceptionally severe or extensive chigger bite reactions be sure to contact your physician.

For more information feel free to contact Wildcat Extension District agent Scott Gordon in Independence by calling 620-331-2690 or by email at  You may also contact Keith Martin in Altamont at 620-784-5337 or email him at rkmartin@ or Josh Coltrain in Girard at 620-724-8233, We also offer programs in Family Consumer Science, 4-H and Youth, and horticulture. Program information and additional contacts can be found on our Website www.wildcatdistrict. ksu. edu. £