Friday, January 19, 2007

Chigger Territory

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... Life In Missouri... Another Trip Down Memory Lane...

From late spring until soil temperatures finally cool again in the fall, it's chigger season in Kentucky.

The chigger is the parasitic larva form of a tiny mite. Chiggers are so tiny they can't be seen without a magnifying glass. They live in damp shady areas and when a host (such as a human) pauses there for a moment, they climb on and search for a place to attach themselves.

If you bathe with hot water and plenty of soap soon enough, you may wash them off before they hook into your skin. But if you don't, the chigger will find a place where the clothing is tight (such as the waistline) or where the skin is thin (such as the ankles) or wrinkled (such as the folds behind the knee). Then it will pierce the skin with its mouthpart and inject some enzyme-laden saliva to liquify the skin so it can be sucked out.

ChiggerNot surprisingly, the area where the chigger is at work becomes inflamed and itchy within a few hours. If the chigger is not killed with soap and hot water (recommended treatment) or knocked off by scratching (not recommended!) it will feed for several days. Then it will finally detach itself and drop back to the ground where it will become a nymph and finally an adult.

A few careless hours spent in a chigger-infested area can put you into a hell of unimaginable itching for a couple of weeks. The first time I ever got chiggers, I fished all afternoon in a Missouri farmpond. I had never heard of chiggers before, so I sat for hours on the big rocks along the water's edge. The next day, I was in agony with dozens of itchy welts -- and I suffered for many days thereafter. Welcome to Missouri!

And then there's the interesting combination of chiggers and poison ivy. I've had that all over my feet and ankles. I did that here in Kentucky, fishing again! I've learned to be very dilligent about using insect repellant and showering promptly, but even a single chigger bite can itch like crazy.

It's amazing to me that when my sister and I were little girls in northern Nebraska, we played in the tall grass (chigger heaven) all the time and we never got chiggers. We didn't get ticks either. (Ticks are another parasite we have in Kentucky.)

On summer afternoons, we made "houses" by mashing down circles in the tall grass under the trees in the shelter belts. We played for hours there, sitting and lying on the ground in the shade.

If there had been chiggers in the grass, we'd have been eaten up by them. There simply weren't any. After living in chigger territory for much of my adult life, it's so hard to imagine that!


pablo said...

I'm going with the theory that over time, one's body can develop a tolerance to the itch induced by chiggers. You still get bitten as much, but your body doesn't go into frenzied itch response mode since it is now recognizing the situation. I understand this actually happens to people who have lived all of their lives in mosquito country.

Genevieve said...

That's a good attitude to adopt, and I hope it does work that way for at least some of us.

Collagemama said...

I'm betting it was too dry in your part of Nebraska for chiggers. We got them often in Lincoln backyards and on fishing excursions in our part of the state. Texas has all sorts of obnoxious insects, but I haven't encountered chiggers here.

Genevieve said...

You are probably right, Collagemama. They did call much of the High Plains (including the Sandhills) "the Great American Desert" back in the 1800's.

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