Possumhaw: Out of sight, out of mind – The Dispatch – The Commercial Dispatch

Shannon Bardwell

I was deemed the champion of the week by those researchers when my bite count exceeded 900.

- Chris Helzer, The Prairie Ecologist

Chiggers, red bugs, harvest mites, harvest bugs, harvest lice, mowers mites, berry bugs, call them what you will but they are all a beast. Chiggers appear across our Prairie in late spring, summer, and early fall. They love the tall weedy grasses growing here in the Prairie and our trees, low wetlands, humidity, brush areas. They dont mind our lakes, streams, or even the front lawn.

And so, it was on a hot humid day when Sam took on the chore to rid some overgrown wisteria and weeds. He was ripe for the taking. Though he showered soon after, the damage had been done. Chiggers have jaw-like claws and six tiny legs and they climb up your shoes, socks and pant legs where they use those claws to make a tiny hole in the skin. At that point neither the chigger or the hole will be noticeable. The little fellow will then fill the hole with its own saliva. The saliva causes the skin to liquify making a tasty meal for the chigger. The chigger does not bury into the skin like a tick would but it does attach for several days. In a day or two the surrounding skin will form a welt, and that is when the itching, redness and inflammation may begin. By that time the chigger itself has probably fallen away or died.

The life cycle of a chigger starts with an egg laid by an adult chigger that has survived the winter buried deep in the soil. The adult chigger dies after the eggs are laid. After about 50 days the egg will develop into the larvae stage. This is the stage where the chigger seeks a host, a hunter, a human somewhere in their territory. Without a host they will live about thirty days. The surviving larvae will be quite concentrated in one area. So that one human may receive a multitude of chiggers while a nearby friend receives none. The larvae will morph into a nymph who will morph into an adult. At the nymph and adult stage, the chigger will feed off of insects and organic matter. Now you are safe from the notorious chigger.

The best remedy is prevention. Cover up as much as possible with long pants, light colored clothing, proper footwear with pants tucked into socks and use protective spray or natural essential oils. Afterwards, shake off clothing, shower with warm water, scrub with a cloth and soap. After showering, wash the cloth and all clothing in hot water. Even if you dont see any chiggers, continue to examine the skin for one or two days watching for any infection.

Once infection occurs there are a multitude of options. Sam found relief with calamine lotion. Other home remedies include a wash of Listerine mouthwash, aloe vera liquid or gel, peppermint oil, olive oil, table salt mixed with Vicks VapoRub, baking soda paste, Epsom salt or vinegar bath, as well as ice compresses.

Call them what you will, avoid chiggers at all costs; the little devils are beasts.

Shannon Bardwell is a writer living quietly in the Prairie. Email reaches her at [emailprotected]

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Possumhaw: Out of sight, out of mind - The Dispatch - The Commercial Dispatch

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