Chigger Bites

Chiggers are youthful larvae of a kind of mite belonging to the family Trombiculidae. These mites are arachnids like ticks and spiders. Trombiculidae is a family of mites that include berry bugs, red bugs, harvest mites and scrub-itch mites. During the larval stage of these Trombiculidae species, the juvenile larvae or those in their early stages, bite their hosts and cause irritation coupled with severe itching on skin of persons bitten. These larvae are called the chiggers.

Often the word chigger is confused with jigger, which is a kind of flea. Chiggers are hardly visible and it is not easy to see them. These larvae appear red in color. The young larvae have six legs but adults, which are harmless, have eight legs. The chigger (larvae) infests humans and migrates to the skin searching for optimal feeding areas.

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There is a common myth that chiggers bite and burrow into the skin. However, this is not true as these larvae just insert their mouthpart into the skin and inject enzymes. Chiggers are mainly found in forests, parks, gardens, grassy fields and in moist areas around rivers and lakes. The larvae that cause the bites are mainly found on plants that are close to ground. These larvae require much humidity in order to survive and this is why you will find them in plants near the ground surface.

How do chigger bites occur ?

When the larvae crawl onto their hosts, they inject a digestive enzyme into the skin and this breaks down the skin cells. It is assumed that these larvae actually do not bite but instead they form a hole on the skin called stylostome. There is itching, which is also accompanied by bumps that look like pimples or papules. The skin may also develop rashes or lesions that become red.

When the larvae detach from the skin, itching occurs. After feeding, the larvae detach and drop to the ground and become nymphs, which later mature to an adult. In post-larval stage, these larvae feed on plant materials and not humans. When the enzyme is released to the skin, it causes destruction of the tissue. The surrounding skin hardens resulting to formation of feeding tubes called stylostome.

The larvae continue feeding on the destroyed tissue and can do this for a few days before they drop to the ground. Chiggers have delicate feeding structures and they are able to penetrate skin in areas such as the folds, wrinkles, ankles, groin and crotch. They may also infect the armpit and areas behind the knees where there is thin skin.

Symptoms of chigger bites

Chigger bites are not easily noticeable and it is only after the injection of enzymes into the skin that a person begins to notice the signs. This may take about 1 to 3 hours. When the symptoms arise, there is intense itching, which is accompanied by inflammation of the skin. The skin area that has been injected with the enzymes begins to redden forming flat or raised lesions, which sometimes resemble blisters or pustules.

How long do chigger bites last ?

The itching occurs because of the stylostome and is more profound within the first few days after a person has had a bite. Whereas the itching may last for only a few days, a complete resolution of the skin lesions may take up to two weeks.

Treatment of chigger bites

Treatment of chigger bites is aimed at relieving the irritation and itching as well as the inflammation. There are different products, which may be used to relieve itching including calamine lotions and corticosteroids creams. In addition, antihistamine may also be applied. However, because of the notion that chiggers burrow into the skin, there are some home remedies, which have been used to try to kill the chiggers on the skin.

However, these remedies are based on incorrect assumptions and belief that chiggers burrow into the skin and remain there. Bleaches, nail polish and alcohol are some of the misguided remedies that are applied to try to suffocate chigger but the bottom-line is that the chiggers are not actually in the skin. They drop to the ground after they have fed and injected the enzymes. This is why these home remedies are ineffective.


It is essential for people to wash with water, soap after they have had outdoor activities, and this may remove the chiggers on their body, which could migrate to other parts of the body as the search for suitable area to feed. These chiggers feed on skin tissue. Clothes also need to be washed especially those that were worn in outdoors in areas infested with chiggers. Chiggers do not bite during cold temperatures and therefore people should pay attention to outdoor temperatures. Repellants used in preventing mosquito bites such as DEET may also be applied for chigger. These repellants can help keep the chiggers away from the skin.

Chigger bites pictures

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