Question of the Week: June 20, 2019

“How can I eliminate chiggers? They’re eating me alive.”

I’ve been asked this by a good many people, some who have already had the pleasure of encountering these tiny pests, and others who simply don’t want to as they head out for their upcoming holiday picnics.

My concern is that as it turns really hot and dry, chiggers are going to proliferate. I’ve always found them to be a real issue from May through mid-July, or later in years with abundant early summer rainfall. So their time is at hand.

Illustration: Adult chigger on left and larval stage (the predatory form) on right. From Texas A&M information by Dr. Mike Merchant, Texas AgriLife Extension entomologist

Chiggers are microscopic mites (8 legs, as opposed to insects’ 6 legs). They hide in tall vegetation and weeds and in bermudagrass lawns that are seldom mowed. You’ll rarely see them being a problem in St. Augustine turf. As you walk through the grass and weeds they climb onto your shoes and clothes (or arms if you’re pulling weeds) and start their climb.

Several hours later you’ll start feeling the bites and severe itching. Initially they’ll be under the elastic in your socks, then up your calves. Within 12 to 18 hours you’ll find a ring of them biting you beneath the elastic band in your underwear – anywhere your clothing constricts.

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The best thing you can do if you fear you might have been in an area infested with chiggers is to take a hot shower as quickly as possible. Use lots of suds with your soap and scrub vigorously. Use one of the chigger ointments or anti-itch creams to help stop the irritation. It should go away within a couple of days.

Dr. Mike Merchant, himself a sufferer of chigger attacks, is a respected entomologist with Texas AgriLife Extension of Texas A&M. Mike referenced a study in Nebraska a few years ago that found bifenthrin gave the best control of chiggers (96 percent) when sprayed in urban lawns and landscapes. Here is a link to Mike’s story.

My own personal means of dealing with chiggers when the grandkids and I go outside is to protect ourselves simply by applying DEET insect repellent to our ankles, calves and arms before we go outside. Then we apply additional sprays to the outside of our clothes as double coverage. We are also protected against mosquitoes by the DEET, an added bonus. I feel like it’s easier to protect ourselves than it is to spray the entire landscape and lawn area in which we might find ourselves.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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