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What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA
Chiggers – A Pest To Avoid
Every so often, even the author of this article falls on the receiving end of a pest-control problem. While visiting friends in North Florida, I was the unfortunate recipient of several dozen chigger bites. Chiggers are a larval stage of a mite which tends to live in tall grass, trails in the woods, and in the brush. Female chiggers lay their eggs in areas that are protected from the elements. Eggs then hatch into a pre-larvae, which develop into the six-legged larvae. At this stage, the parasitic chigger is ready to feed on animals and people. Unfortunately, I was the host this day. Chiggers are microscopic so you cannot see them with the naked eye. You would not know of their presence until after you develop the symptoms related to their bites. In this article, I will try to tell you where chiggers are, how to avoid them, and what you can do to give yourself some relief, let’s get started.
Exploring the woods and hiking is a natural function many people enjoy. Florida offers many hiking trails where you can explore the states distinctive beauty. Although chiggers can be found throughout the state, the North Florida area around the Santa Fe River and the Suwannee River harbor large populations of chiggers. Just enjoying an afternoon in the woods as I was doing this past week, can lead to several weeks of painful itching and a possible skin infection. Once an animal or person enters an area where these pests are, chiggers will latch on to you and crawl up your clothing, finally attaching themselves to a hair follicle or pore where they insert their piercing mouthparts and inject a fluid which helps them feed. Because many people are allergic to this fluid, your reaction is to itch the spot where the chigger has fed. This consistent itching can lead to an infection.
Most people never realize they have been bitten for several hours and up to a few days later. For me, it took two days for the red marks, which resemble a mosquito bite to form. Any exposed area of skin may be bitten. Where clothing is tight, the mites have a problem progressing past that point. I had no clue that I had been bitten. Many of the bites I received appeared near the top of my socks to the upper thigh. In total, I had over forty bites. These bites were similar to mosquito bites in the fact that they were extremely itchy. Some people have reported severe swelling and fever, including secondary infections caused from the consistent itching. Even after nine days and the use of a variety of lotions, including Calamine, Hydrocortisone, and Itch relief sprays, I was still in pain. None of these products seemed to work. The cessation of the intensity of the itching took two full weeks.
Unlike other pests which firmly attach themselves to the host by burrowing into the skin such as ticks, chiggers die and fall off the host within a few hours of feeding. They also do not feed on blood as other parasites do and are not known to carry any diseases, which can be transmitted from pest to host. Chiggers feed on digested skin cells and lymph broken down by their saliva, which fortunately kills the chiggers fairly quickly.
You can help to reduce the incidence of chiggers by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Spray your outer clothing with insect repellants containing DEET before entering areas where you suspect the possibility of chiggers. Mow lawns to reduce tall grass and perform routine insecticide spraying of the lawn and plants to reduce harborage areas. Take a hot bath or shower with soap and water immediately if you believe you may have been in an area where chiggers are present. Wash and heat dry clothing you may have been wearing to prevent the spread of these pests, following hiking or trail riding.
Chiggers can be found throughout Florida, especially in wet areas. Ask locals if these pests have been found in the past as it is likely they will still be here now. Cover up when hiking or walking through the woods and use DEET repellant to help discourage these pests from attaching to your clothes. This experience was not a fun occurrence for me, but it was a great learning opportunity. Let me be the last person to get these painful bites and follow my suggestions above. Do not give up on enjoying the outdoors, as long as you take precautions, you should have no problems. Good luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here!