You know you were bitten by something because those red bumps are itching like crazy. You figure it was a mosquito, but could it be a chigger? How do you know?
What Are Chiggers?
Before we get to the bite, itself, let's talk a little about chiggers. The chigger is very small, so tiny, in fact, that it is virtually impossible to see unless you are looking directly for one. And seeing the teeny creature in any detail would require the use of a microscope or at least a magnifying glass. It is the larval stage of chigger that bites as it feeds on blood. Adults do not bite people; rather, they feed on plants and small insects. Some common characteristics of chiggers are:
- They are about 1/60th of an inch in size as adults, less than 1/150th of an inch as larvae
- As larvae, they have only six legs, but adults have eight legs
- They are red in color but turn yellowish after feeding on blood.
- Can be confused with mites because of their appearance and size
- They are actually a very tiny arachnid, like spiders and ticks
- They are scientifically described as a family of Trombiculidae, in the order Actinedida, in the class Arachnida
The Difference Between Chigger Bites and Mosquito Bites
Because chiggers are so hard to see, you are most likely to know that you’ve come upon chiggers because of the itchy welts on your skin from their bites. The differences between chigger bites and mosquito bites are:
- Chiggers will get in and underclothing to get to areas where the skin is thinnest, so bites are likely to be on ankles, waist, backs of knees, armpits and the crotch. Mosquitoes will zoom in on any exposed area of skin.
- Chigger bites leave little red pimple-like bumps right in the center of the bites. Mosquito bites are of a single color without the pimply bumps.
- Chigger bites are generally painless when they occur, but after several hours the itching will begin. Mosquito bites generally tend to begin to itch soon after a person is bitten.
- Chigger bites are not known to transmit disease, but mosquito bites can carry malaria, West Nile Virus, Zika virus, and other encephalitis viruses.
Where Chiggers Live
Chiggers are most commonly found in tall or bushy grasses and weeds, berry patches, and the edges of woodlands. However, they may be plentiful in one part of an area and absent from another (meaning if you are picking berries with a friend, one of you may suffer chigger bites, while the other remains bite-free). They are particularly common in areas that stay damp during the day. Chiggers are most active at lower summer temperatures of the high 70s to the low 80s, becoming inactive below 60 F and above 99 F.
Like mosquitoes, chiggers will also take advantage of exposed skin, with a rash signifying that the bites are more likely from chiggers than from mosquitoes. As explained in a National Institute of Health’s Medline Plus publication:
"A skin rash may appear on the parts of the body that were exposed to the sun. It may stop where the underwear meets the legs. This is often a clue that the rash is due to chigger bites."
If You Are Bitten by a Chigger
If you are going to be in an area where chiggers are likely or even possible, you can help protect yourself through the following steps 1 to 4. If you do get bitten, follow steps 4 through 6:
- Protect your skin by wearing tightly woven clothes that cover as much of your body as possible with minimal openings.
- Apply insect repellents to your clothes before going into potential chigger areas.
- When you do feel or see chiggers on your skin, remove them right away. The longer a chigger feeds, the greater will be the intensity of the itch.
- Bathe soon after exposure—whether you've been bitten or not.
- Do not scratch. It increases the chance of infection and keeps a bite open, preventing it from healing.
- Help ease the itch and pain by following Medline's recommendation to use antihistamines and corticosteroid creams or lotions.