Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Attack of the Chiggers!

Chiggers! I hate them! I was out scouting a few days ago and ran into a terrible patch of chiggers and ticks. When I began my hike I wasn't paying attention to my legs because I had soaked myself in DEET before I left and I was reapplying it every hour. The mosquitoes that usually drive me crazy were not bothering me, so I figured the ticks and chiggers were not either. Wrong! I happened to glance down and notice an army of ticks climbing up my leg. An army! I immediately picked off over 20. For the rest of the hike I stopped every five minutes and picked off the three or four I had picked up. I lost count of the ticks I picked off me, it had to be over 50.  None bit me though, it was like they were climbing over the DEET to get to my unDEETed parts.

One of my attackers!

The chiggers were another story. They burrowed into my socks and got my feet, which I had not DEETed. The also climbed my legs and attacked the tiny spots I had missed with the DEET. I woke up the next morning with hundreds of bites. What did I do wrong?

First lets talk a little about chiggers. Chiggers are mites, just like ticks. Unlike ticks they do not eat blood, they eat skin. They also don't actually bite, they bore a hole in you and squirt in a digestive enzyme. This enzyme is what causes the intense irritation. You are their first meal. Once they are done they drop off and become vegetarians. Of course, chiggers that bite humans rarely live to tell about it. Scratching them off before they are done kills them. The old tale my Grandma taught me that chiggers bore under your skin and live there until you scratch them out is false.

Now, how could I have avoided becoming a feast for these little devils? I should have worn boots and long pants, not tennis shoes and shorts. The best way to prevent chiggers is a physical barrier. I should have tucked my pant legs into my boots. That would have prevented access to my feet.

I also should have treated my shoes, socks, and clothes with permethrin. Permethrin odorless, lasts a long time, and kills chiggers and ticks. With any luck they would have died before they bit me.

Once you get chiggers the best thing to do is scrape them off as soon as possible. The longer the chigger stays attached the worse the bite is. There are lots of topical treatments that can alleviate the itching. I personally use a product called Itch-X. It provides about four hours of relief, if I don't scratch.

Chiggers are awful, awful insects. I usually get them really bad once a year before I learn my lesson and prepair properly. I certainly don't plan on getting them again!

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