Chiggers Suck

Chiggers don’t actually suck, that’s just a colloquial verb humans use to describe their feelings about chiggers. I’ve been a victim not only of chigger bites, but chigger misinformation, believing that they burrowed into my skin, laying eggs, and the baby larvae were eating me for dinner. Only partly correct. The adults don’t bite. The females don’t lay eggs in your skin, but the larvae do eat you for lunch.

What are these little annoying buggers? The well-adapted little creatures are members of the genus Eutrombicula. There are several species in Arkansas. They are not insects, but related to spiders—eight legged critters, kin to ticks, actually a type of mite.  Reddish or orange adult chiggers are tiny. The period at the end of this sentence is about the size of an adult chigger, as noted in an excellent article by Tom Cwynar on the Missouri Department of Conservation website (just Google “chigger life cycle”). You don’t have to worry about the adults. The bright-orange, larvae—80% smaller than an adult chigger are the annoying culprits.
Lemon grass; lemongrass; Cymbopogon citratus; Lemon grass leaf with morning dewThey are so small you can’t see them with the naked eye. These tiny larvae climb to the top of a blade of grass awaiting you to brush by so they can hitch a ride. Once on your skin they slowly lumber around seeking your softest most tender private parts, usually at a hair follicle or pore in which the littler suckers can enjoy your flesh. Contrary to popular belief, chiggers don’t suck. No, they have tiny little mouth parts called chelicerae with which they scoop out a hole, then inject saliva with proteolytic enzymes that liquefies your flesh. Your immune system reacts by walling off the area with a tiny hard tube known as a stylostome, which oozes chigger goo. For the chigger, that structure serves as a straw. Once engorged, the tiny larvae drops off.

The good news is that humans are a lousy host for chiggers, because we scratch, and presumably bathe. Only a few chigger larvae on our skin actually get the opportunity to feed. We may have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of chiggers hitching a ride on us. The best cure: take a shower and vigorously brush the skin once you come back from the outdoors. And don’t drop your dirty clothes on the floor next to your bed. . . .

Published
Categorized as Nature

By Steven Foster

Describing her first visit with Steven Foster in 1977, Harvard University botanist, Dr. Shiu Ying Hu (1908-2012), wrote, “Our conversation reminded me of something that Confucius said two thousand years ago. ‘In any company of three persons, there must be one who can be my teacher’. . . I found in Steven Foster a teacher who could share a profound knowledge of economic botany, particularly in the cultivation and uses of herbs.” In 1974, at age 17, Steven Foster, began his career at the Sabbathday Lake, Maine, Shaker Community Herb Department —America's oldest herb business, dating to 1799. There he established three acres of production gardens and managed 1700 acres for the commercial harvest of botanicals. For forty-six years, Steven has photographed and researched herbs from the Amazon rainforest to the highlands of Vietnam. Foster has over 900 photo-illustrated articles published in a wide range of media. Steven also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Botanical Council, and a Contributing Editor to the organization's journal, HerbalGram. Steven is the author, co-author and photographer of eighteen books, including the NEW 2014 Third Edition of A Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America (with James A. Duke), along with National Geographic’s Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs (2010), and A Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine (2006, with Rebecca Johnson), awarded a 2007 New York Public Library “Best of Reference.” He is senior author of three other Peterson Field Guides, including A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs (with Dr. James A. Duke), 1st & 2nd editions, 1990, 2000; A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs with Dr. Christopher Hobbs, (2002); and A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants of North America (with Roger Caras, 1995). Other titles include Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West (with Prof. Yue Chongxi, 1992); Herbal Renaissance (1994); among others. Foster makes his home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.