Question: While walking through my woods I somehow came in contact with what I was told were chiggers. How do I get rid of them?
Answer: People who live near the woods or occasionally visit them, run the risk of encountering some unsavory inhabitants. Chiggers are found in shrubby understory, grassy areas and open fields. They rest on vegetation until a passerby brushes up against it and then climb aboard. Although chiggers cause mostly short-term discomfort, tick bites can have serious long term consequences. If your activities take you to areas predisposed to ticks and chiggers, some precautions should prove helpful.
Chiggers are tiny parasitic mites that cause red welts and severe itching. They are usually found concentrated in patches that are damp with low-growing shrubs, tall grass or weeds. Their natural choice of a host is a rodent, bird, livestock, snake or toad and not the unfortunate homeowner who wanders into their environment. The highest populations occur in July, August and early September.
The adult chigger can be seen crawling on the ground, but it is the immature larval stage that causes the bite. They search for a part of the body where clothing fits tightly, such as ankles, waists and underarms and begin to feed. The end result is a red welt and severe itching. The irritation may show up several hours or even a day later. On the up side, chiggers are not known to transmit disease and, contrary to popular belief, do not burrow into the skin nor suck blood.
If your property is a natural habitat for chiggers, some vegetative management will help reduce numbers. Regular mowing and brush removal will cut down on their natural wild hosts. When working outside in prone areas, avoid wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts and sandals. Tuck your pant legs inside your boots, and button the cuffs and collars of your shirt tightly to keep the chiggers on the outside of your clothing longer. An insect repellent containing DEET applied to your shoes, cuffs and pants legs before going into an infested area is helpful.
As soon as possible, you should remove and launder the exposed clothing. A shower with a vigorous skin massage taken within an hour or two after exposure will greatly reduce the number of bites. Chiggers die quickly once dislodged from your skin.
Spraying infested areas will have limited results lasting only a few days or weeks. Look for products labeled for chigger control. Application timing is late April to mid-June for best results. Repeat applications are recommended in two to three weeks. Chiggers avoid bright sunlight so treating your entire lawn will not be beneficial. Focus on unkempt areas around the lawn.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: