The Chigger: Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

We are no strangers to the body mite. In Texas, they’re more easily recognized as Chiggers, and if you’re an outdoor sort in the spring like me, no doubt you’ve felt their wrath.

I’ve written about them in the past, and every year as we forage for wild blackberries (dewberries) in the spring, they inevitably wind up in our socks and underwear no matter how much we work to repel them. The thin skin and tight spaces of elastic clothing is where they love to sit down and dine.

They’re everywhere it seems. I see them on the swing. On the picnic table. On my body.

Being a daily birder and nature photographer, kneeling on the ground, hiking through grasses, leaning on trees, I’ve settled into what I like to call the Spring Super-Itch. Mosquitoes and black fly midges have nothing on the microscopic chigger for itch factor.

You can’t see the larval mites — they are invisible to the naked eye. But you can see the half-a-millimeter adult body mite (an arachnid, like spiders) racing around frantically as if their lives depended upon the rapid expulsion of energy reserves. They never sit down and stop it seems, and they are bright red-orange.

Seeing them makes me cringe worse than a cockroach or stinkbug. The mere thought of them makes me itch, and it’s really, really hard not to squish the poor racy devil.

For scale, the Tamron big lens and my not-too-chunky pointer finger:

…and the Chigger a/k/a Red bug doing the happy dance across the same lens, difficult to track with the camera phone:

Trombiculidae (Chigger)
iPhones Take Pretty Good Macros!

If you see one of these teeny tiny creatures (they look like and are related to spiders) running up your arm, don’t be alarmed: it’s not the adult Red bug you have to worry about.

However, God help you if you ever fall into a Baby Chigger patch. No amount of Lidocaine will relieve the itch — an itch in just all the wrong places.

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21 thoughts on “The Chigger: Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

  1. Yup, I already got my first chigger bites about 10 days ago. One reason for going out in nature in late winter and early spring is that the chiggers aren’t yet a problem.

    We discovered that southwestern New Zealand is notorious for its sandflies, which love to bite people’s ankles.

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    1. Galveston sand flies are pretty brutal too, but they don’t limit themselves to ankles. At least the deer (black) fly midges here are manageable; just have to look play Garden Ninja to keep them off neck and ears.HA!

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  2. Ugh.. those little buggers are horrible. It has been a long time *knock on wood* since I have had a chigger bite, but I don’t go out into the woods and we spray our yard for bugs to protect us and the dogs. I didn’t realize you could see the adult mite. There isn’t much that creeps me out.. but those things do!! Thanks for the info!

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    1. I’m with you, Courtney, that not much creeps me out (I don’t seem to be wired that way). But seeing these little orange guys run around on my arm give me the — as a previous commenter put it — the heebie jeebies.

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    1. Thank you, Bill, I appreciate your taking the time to comment and reading. Posts are as eclectic as my life is hectic; this blog is like The Life and Times! To me, this stuff simply never gets old. Nature is too amazing that way.

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  3. Err yuck. Chiggers are no fun! I have one painful itchy memory of them a number of years ago…it still doesn’t gross me out as much as a ticks do, though. You have my sympathies Shannon!

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    1. Oh yeah, ticks are the worst, but if you’re wearing shorts, you can FEEL them crawling and pick them off. No such chance with the tiny body mite, Hazel. Oh well. As I’m not gonna give up outdoor living anytime soon, guess I’ll take ’em!

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  4. Oh, I have such a hard time with chiggers, but they don’t live in my neck of the woods, I think because it’s dry here. But I get them in lots of places when we travel. I have never ever seen one, and gasped when I saw the photo. I have found using ankle gaiters helps the most and I don’t care how dorky it looks. I send my sympathies, Shannon, and thanks for showing me what they look like.

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      1. I got mine at REI. They are thick nylon and you strap the stirrups into your boots, then they wrap around your ankle and fasten with Velcro, completely covering your ankles. Unlike tucking in your pants legs, they are also thick and less penetrable for the chiggers. I still get some bites, but not nearly what I used to before the gaiters. B-line to REI, Shannon~~

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