Many people have heard of the parasitic pests commonly known as “chiggers,” but few people living in the US know why these arachnids are considered pests. Chiggers are well known to people living south of the border in Mexico and South America where the pests often transmit diseases. While chiggers can be found in several southern states, these tiny arachnid pests are not considered medically important in the US since they are not known for transmitting disease to humans in the country. However, chiggers can pose a serious nuisance to residents of Arizona, as they are common in residential yards where they inflict bites to humans that result in severe itchiness and swelling.
The term “chiggers” is a common name given to harvest mite larvae that feed on human and animal skin cells. During the spring season, adult harvest mites deposit eggs in soil located in residential yards, parks, nature preserves and in any landscape where grass and/or other forms of vegetation are present. During the late summer and fall seasons, chiggers emerge from the eggs, and although chiggers are small, their red bodies can sometimes be seen crawling about in gardens and on turf. Upon hatching, chiggers immediately attempt to feed by crawling atop blades of grass in order to jump and land on the skin of any human that walks by.
Chiggers prefer to feed on birds and rodents, but they will not hesitate to feed on humans if their favored food sources are not available. Once chiggers land on human skin, they move beneath clothing before using their mouthparts to feed on skin cells. Chigger bites transmit enzymes into the bloodstream that cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals, but even non-allergic individuals can experience irritation from chigger bites that last for up to two weeks.
A little more than a month ago, a resident of Arizona recounted his struggle with chigger bites while gardening in his backyard. The resident had tried applying a number of anti-itch creams to relieve the itching caused by the many chigger bites that he had sustained, but when these failed, he eventually turned to steroid medication. The resident also decided to avoid his yard until the chigger issue could be resolved, and this is pretty much all he could do. Unfortunately, experts state that chiggers are impossible to avoid in areas where they are present, and the best thing to do in order to avoid bites is to avoid chigger-infested areas entirely. With the exception of their annoying bites, chiggers in the US are considered medically harmless, and DEET repellent can provide short-term protection from their bites.
Have you ever spotted a chigger or sustained a chigger bite in Arizona?