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This diary was prompted by the diary "New Day", posted this morning by smileycreek, which asked what "home remedies" you grew up with.  It made me think of chiggers.  What, you may well ask, are chiggers?  Well, for you Millennials out there, they are tiny mites.  You can be forgiven if you are unfamiliar with them, because you have to actually go outside to encounter them.  Not just outside, but usually you have to walk through some woods, or a field with tall grass...think meadow.  You will never encounter chiggers at the mall, or in a theater, at an Occupy Whatever event, or while blogging on your iPad at Starbucks.

They are country critters.

Now that I've let that little jab at my younger brethren loose, let me address my generational peers...the Boomers.  If you grew up in a rural area where you actually encountered chiggers, they do not lay eggs under your skin.  There is no arachnid alien gestating under that welt on your thigh.  Chiggers bite, but they don't deposit any tiny "chiggerlings" under your skin.

Do the bites itch?  They sure do.  Will nail polish (preferably clear) applied over the top of the welt help?  No it won't.  But that was the "home remedy" I grew up with whenever I came home from a morning of fishing with my grandfather and woke up the next morning with chigger welts around my ankles, knees or, ahem, around the elastic baricades of the "Whitey Tighties" that I routinely wore as a pre-teen.

A chigger bite forms a welt quite similar to a mosquito bite...but it itches much more.

My dear Grandmother, who hailed from Eastern Kentucky, had a readily available and easy remedy:  "paint the bump with nail polish, because the chigger that "bit" you actually deposited an egg under your skin...and the swelling and itching is caused by the gestation of that egg."  The reasoning, I'm guessing, was that coating the bump with nail polish would seal of oxygen to the developing little "chiggerling" growing under your skin.

Like most placebos...the nail polish treatment always seemed to work.

Except for the fact that it made no sense.  Join me below for everything you absolutely never wanted to know about chiggers.  

You know you want to.....

Let me introduce you to my little friend.

Trombiculidae is the scientific name for these mites.  They are widely distributed around the globe, but most prevalent in warmer, humid zones.  They are tiny...less than 2 mm in length.  The fact is, you almost never, ever actually see them.  You only see their aftermath.  But if you could see them, they'd look like this:

Red Velvet Mite (Trombiculidae)

Lovely little creature, isn't it?  Just imagine a dozen of those little lovelies crawling up your legs until they encounter a little elastic and decide to have lunch.

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time in the country.  Went fishing a lot with my grandfather, and I always got chigger bites.  They are most prevalent in the early summer, when the spring grass and weeds are high, and the mornings are dewy.  Wade through a field of that stuff, wearing cut off jeans or a pair of cargo shorts, and you're just asking for it.  But, as often as not, there was just no other way to make it to the edge of the lake and cast your line.  Risk a few chigger bites, or not go home with a basket full of Bluegill and Crappie.  For me, it was an easy choice to make.

In retrospect, I was fairly lucky.  On a bad fishing trip, I might end up the next day with 4 or 5 chigger bites, spread out.  But here's what a less fortunate soul has to contend with:

chigger bites

And do they itch?  Like the old song're gonna need an ocean of Calamine Lotion.  Only...Calamine Lotion was never the treatment of choice by my grandmother.  She hailed from Kentucky, and it was her belief (indeed, the belief was widespread) that the welt caused by a chigger bite was the result of its penetrating your skin and depositing eggs underneath.  The eggs matured quickly and developed into...into what??  (She never told me that part of the story.)  She only assured me that there was something alive under my skin, and that it needed order to survive.

Yup...there was no other recourse, she assured me, other than to break out the Revlon nail polish.  That, most assuredly, would smother them to death.

I grew up with this conception of chiggers until my dear Grandmother died.  I don't want to dissuade you from adhering to the mostly good advice that your own grandmothers may have imparted to you.  But if nail polish on a chigger bite was part of that folk wisdom, how can I say this?  You were had.

Look....Chiggers are nothing you want to have to contend with...but they aren't like lyme disease.  They aren't ticks.  Ticks are several times larger than chiggers, but even ticks are hard to detect on your skin, they are so small.  Chiggers?  Almost impossible.  

If I could give one word of advice to a lady I might take fishing in Ohio on the shore of some country lake, it would be this:  Wear some granny panties.  Big old cover your whole ass panties, with real elastic.  Cause if you are gonna wear something sexy...the chiggers will get into the red zone, to borrow a football phrase.  And there's no goal line defense.  They WILL score.  

I don't...and you don't, want to see that.

So...if the buggers don't actually deposit tiny alien arachnid creatures underneath your skin...what are those bumps about?  And why do they itch so much? has to do with this.  Decomposition.

When a chigger bites you, it injects an enzyme into the surrounding tissue that slowly breaks it down and makes it easier to digest.  They aren't looking for a nest...they are looking for a meal.  The enzyme causes the tissue immediately surrounding the bite to rapidly breakdown into a form that they can feed upon.  

Painting that welt with Revlon ain't gonna do a damned thing.  

The best thing you can do, after traipsing through the high grass on a dewy summer morning, is go right home, strip down and take a shower.  A loofa would, as long as it's in your hands and not Bill O'Reilly's, be a good thing.  You might consider a pair of gaiters...cylindrical nylon wraps that cover the tops of your boots and the lower cuffs of your pants.  Chiggers, once they attach themselves to you when you brush up against plants they are on, will migrate along your limbs until they reach some constriction.   That could be the top of your socks.  Or it could be the the band of elastic at the waistline, or the buttline, of your underwear.  If there is someplace you don't want chiggers to explore, consider your underwear.  

These critters aren't, as far as I know, vectors of any disease.  They are mostly just an annoyance.  If you really get deep in the weeds and get seriously bitten up by them, it can be unsightly.  I've never fallen into such a weed patch.  I've gotten bitten up, but never to the point where I felt like it was effing embarrassing.  

Embrassing is when your grandmother paints the welts with candy apple red nail polish.

Originally posted to Keith930 on Fri Mar 29, 2013 at 02:46 PM PDT.

Also republished by Appalachian Journal and Backyard Science.


Have you ever had chigger bites?

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