What can you tell me about chiggers?


We all know a little bit about chiggers - and that is that they are itchy as all-get-out.  And I mean ITCHY!!  My *fondest* memories of summer camp usually are sprinkled with chigger bites…But what are they REALLY?  They are tiny, tiny relatives of the tick.  Officially named trombiculidae, they are about .4 mm wide, which is teeny tiny.  They live in four stages, egg, larva, nymph, and adult, and live in the following types of areas:



-low damp areas

-low dry areas


We do know that they like early summer the best, which may give you some management options. 


Chigger habitats also include lawns, golf courses, and pastures.  Sunny or shady.  There is much current debate over the climate that chiggers like.  Some scientists have found sun and humidity is loathed by chiggers, while some other scientists say chiggers love sun and humidity.  Go figure.  


While rare, chiggers can feed on horses.  It’s more likely that they are going to eat us instead, and here is how it’s done.  Chiggers, in the larval stage only, will climb on us from the brush we walk through.  The larva then use a part of their anatomy to dig a hole into your skin, inject some of their chigger enzymes, and eat your skin cells.  Not your blood, they are not like ticks in that respect.  


After, and only after, the larva fall off do you develop the itch, pimple like bumps, hives, and/or rash on sun exposed areas.  The best thing to do is to attack the itch with an over the counter corticosteroid cream and/or antihistamine cream.  The chigger bites create a multi faceted reaction in your body, from the enzymes, from your allergy response, from your immune response, and sometimes a bacterial infection if you go crazy with the scratching.  What cream works for you may not work for your friend, as one of you may be allergic and the other maybe not.  


There are also TONS of less than reliable methods of treatment out there, including *gasp* nail polish, vaseline, etc.  These are based on the gigantic myth that chiggers live in your skin.  They do not.  When you itch, they are gone, so treat the symptoms.  


Chiggers do not like DEET, so be sure to use a bug repellent with that chemical.  There are horse safe sprays that contain DEET on the market, which incidentally also repel ticks.  I know some of you out there despise chemicals on your horse, but I personally would rather use an approved horse spray according to directions to ward off disease carrying ticks.  (Chiggers, by the way, don’t typically carry diseases in the US).  


It seems the real way to prevent chiggers is to manage the area that they live in, and unfortunately, this is crazy difficult due to the zillion types of environments that they can live in.   Knowing that they thrive in early summer, this may be the time to use dry lots or sandy/dirt turnouts instead of pastures if possible.  You may also try spreading diatomaceous earth in your pastures, although this has no scientifically proven power to kill chiggers but seems to be a very popular method to try. 


At any rate, they are a real pest, but a little prevention and treatment of the itch and allergic response should have you and your horse well on the way to being chigger free.

How do you deal with chiggers?