There are 20 known species of chigger that feed on humans, but only two of these live in the United States. Nonetheless, anyone who has ever suffered from a chigger bite will know how unpleasant these little critters are. While chiggers are a common seasonal problem across the United States, you can take measures to make sure your garden doesn't become a home for these unwanted visitors. Learn more here.
Chiggers are actually the larvae of a mite that feeds on birds, animals and humans. These larvae are extremely small at up to 1/200 inch in diameter, so you'll only normally see them as tiny red dots. The larvae are active from the start of spring through to late fall, and a serious infestation can make life miserable.
Contrary to what you may think, chiggers don't actually feed on your blood. Instead, these bugs have special claws that cut into your skin, allowing the mouth to inject an enzyme that starts to digest the liquefied skin tissue. This digestive enzyme can irritate your skin for some time, especially as the larvae can feed for several hours at a time.
You can find chiggers in a range of terrains, but the mite larvae generally prefer damp, grassy vegetation in shaded areas. You can also find the bugs in piles of leaf litter, on rotten logs or around tree stumps. The chigger larvae climb to the top of grass blades, twigs and other objects, where they can increase their chances of finding an unwitting animal host that will brush past.
Chiggers are most active in the afternoons, and they like a ground temperature between 77 and 86 degrees. Hot, dry conditions will kill chiggers. Similarly, temperatures below 42 degrees are generally fatal for these mites.
Chiggers don't normally infest large areas, and an outbreak may lurk in a relatively small space, where the female will lay her eggs. Nonetheless, you can keep chiggers out of your garden with good maintenance.
Mow your lawn regularly and keep the grass short. Chiggers don't like short, dry grass and will actively avoid these areas. You should also pay particular attention to the edges of your lawn, where longer grass may sit alongside damp, overgrown plants.
Regular weeding of landscape beds will also control chiggers. Remove any leaf litter and debris, and remove brush piles from the property. Trimming and pruning trees and shrubs to allow more sunlight to get to the ground below will also help, as potential chigger habitats will dry out.
Treating a chigger outbreak
If you and your family get a lot of chigger bites, you may have an infestation somewhere in your garden. It's a good idea to find exactly where the critters live, so you can target your treatment efforts. Lay a piece of black cardboard in suspect areas and come back a few minutes later. If you have a chigger problem, you should see the larvae climbing up the cardboard.
If you find an outbreak in part of your garden, make sure you only use pesticides in the affected areas. You can find a suitable pesticide online through the National Pesticide Information Retrieval System. Make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. You may need several applications to get rid of the infestation. Keep pets and children away from treated areas until they are completely dry
While you are dealing with a chigger problem, it's a good idea to stay away from any infested areas in the garden. What's more, you may want to use chigger repellent while you and your family are in the garden for complete peace of mind. Several brands of repellent are available on the market. Most of these products repel other nuisance insects and ticks, too.
Chiggers are one of the most common pests that live in American gardens. Regular gardening will control the chigger population, but you may need to talk to a pest control company such as Antex Exterminating Co Inc to tackle a serious infestation.