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Chiggers - Mites That Bite!

- Tiny, fiercely biting mites -

Summary: These tiny, red mites cause intensely itchy bites. Mites are usually encountered in brushy areas while hiking or gardening. Insect repellents are effective against chiggers. These mites do not infest homes and are easily washed off the skin.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)
my resume

Chigger mite identification

Chiggers are tiny, biting, six-legged (larval) mites in the family Trombiculidae. Later stages of this mite have eight legs and do not bite. Chigger larvae bite humans, other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Unlike scabies mites, chiggers do not burrow into skin but rather inject saliva into the wound which causes an allergic reaction and an intensely itchy rash-like dermatitis (see chigger bite pictures).

Chigger mites are very small (0.2-0.4 mm ~ 1/100"), six-legged round mites with many setae ("hairs") covering the body and legs, see drawing (right). These mites can be red, yellow or orange in color. When seen on your body chiggers look like tiny red specks moving rapidly over the skin.

alternate names: harvest mite, red bug, redbug, jigger, scrub-itch mite

picture of chigger mite

Chigger mite ~ 1/100" (black & white drawing), these mites are usually reddish or orange in color.

Chiggers are more common in tropical or semi-tropical climates but occur worldwide. Some species are responsible for the transmission of scrub typhus but not species in the US. Chigger mites can be encountered in any dense, brushy vegetation during any month in the southern US and late spring through early fall in the northern US. Chiggers do not infest homes.

Symptoms of chigger bites

Bites initially blister then form red, intensely itchy areas that resemble bad mosquito bites or a rash, starting soon after some outdoor activity (see pictures here). The bites often cluster around areas of the body that were constricted by clothing. The intensity of the reaction varies by individual depending on their immune system, similar to other types of allergic reaction, and can change over time.

How to avoid chigger bites

It is not practical to try to control either adults or larval stages of chigger mites with insecticide. In areas where chigger bites have occurred the best defense is to use repellents containing DEET or to treat clothing with a permethrin-based spray (see Using Insect Repellents).

Treating chigger bites

By the time the itching starts the actual mites may be long gone. However, since these may feed for hours, or even days, taking a warm shower when bites are first noticed will disrupt further feeding by washing away any remaining mites. Severe allergic reactions should be seen by a medical professional but less severe reactions can be treated with skin care ointments that are available over-the-counter. No other treatment is generally necessary.

Physician's Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance

This is a standard reference text (see right) for insects, spiders and their close relatives that cause medically important injuries. The text has been recently updated with color photographs of the significant biting and stinging arthropods.

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