Chiggers are the larval form of adult mites in the genus Trombicula that are also known as harvest mites, harvest lice, and red bugs. They thrive worldwide in hot, humid areas. In the United States, they’re a nuisance in the southern and midwestern states, typically in the spring, summer, and fall, but every state has them. Chiggers are nearly microscopic. They measure a mere 1/150th of an inch and, while they’re often impossible to see with the human eye, they can be felt well after they have bored tiny holes into your skin with their sharp, jawlike claws to feast on skin cells. Their skin-dissolving saliva leaves itchy, welt-like hives that often last for days. The good news: There are ways to track, rid, and prevent them. If you think you’ve got chiggers on your property, use the following as your guide: Don protective clothing and repellent and take back your land from the biting enemy. And know that you are not the only one tracking chiggers in your yard. They’re food for various species of ants, beetles, centipedes, spiders, birds, and a lot of other small creatures.
What Do Chiggers Look Like?
Chiggers are arachnids, and up close they look like a cross between a crab and a spider in a range of warm colors, from straw to yellow, to orange and red. With a magnifying glass, you might see them in groups on a blade of grass or low-hanging leaf. You might find them moving on your legs—or maybe just see the welts from their bites. Note: The larvae have six legs and are the ones that bite (adults have eight legs).
How to Dress for Chiggers
Your first step, of course, should be confirming that you have a chigger infestation in your yard. If you’ve experienced the incessant itching of chigger bites after spending time outdoors, you’ll know it. But if you aren’t sure about the cause, you can do a quick test to confirm the offending pests are, indeed, chiggers.
Before you check your property, it’s recommended that you cover as much of your skin as you can. Loose-fitting shirts and pants with a tight-woven fabric are best. Tuck pants into thick socks and tall shoes or boots. Button collars and cuffs. Use an insect repellent containing DEET on skin and clothing, and if you want extra protection, dust your socks and the inside of your shoes with sulfur powder. When you are done with your investigation, and before going back to your house, check for chiggers by brushing off your clothes and examining the edges of your clothing where it meets your skin. You may even want to discard your clothes outside before going into the house. Put them in a plastic bag until you can get them into a hot wash. Then take a hot shower.
How to Find Chiggers
Most chiggers prefer moist, shady areas with thick vegetation, so focus your investigative efforts on these types of places in your yard. Don’t bother searching for chiggers in areas that get full sun or where you keep the lawn mowed short.
To begin your search, you’ll need one or more squares of black cardboard, each about 6×6 inches. Stand the cardboard squares on edge in areas where you suspect chiggers may be. Leave the squares in place for several minutes.
Then, look closely at the cardboard. If chiggers are present, they will climb up the cardboard and gather near the top. The chiggers will be tiny and either red or yellow in color, so you should be able to easily see them against the black backdrop.
Another way to find them: Leave a shallow bowl of water in the grass for a few minutes. Look for chiggers congregating around the rim. You may need a magnifying glass to see them.
Get Rid of Chiggers in the Yard
If you find a heavy infestation of chiggers, it’s time to eliminate their habitat. The good news is that widespread use of pesticides to get rid of chiggers is rarely required or recommended. However, the solution does involve yard work.
Because most chiggers prefer moist, shady areas with thick vegetation, these are the areas that will involve the most work. (Note: Some species do like dry areas, so keep that in mind.) You’ll be tackling prime chigger habitats, including overgrown lawns, ground covers, leaf litter, weedy areas, and densely planted shrubs or trees. Chiggers tend to cluster in certain areas because the small females lay their eggs in one location. You may find an abundance of chiggers in one area and a complete lack of them in an equally suitable area nearby. That said, you may have less work than you think you do.
So how do you get rid of chiggers in your yard? Maintain a neat and tidy landscape, specifically:
- Mow your lawn regularly and keep it short, especially around the edges where the grass meets landscape beds or woody areas.
- Keep landscape beds weeded and remove accumulated leaf litter.
- Trim and prune landscape plants regularly to keep them from becoming overgrown.
- Remove brush piles from your property.
- Because chiggers avoid sunny areas, eliminating shade in your yard can reduce chigger populations.
If you feel you absolutely must treat your property for chiggers with pesticides, please do so responsibly and safely:
- Contact your local cooperative extension office to get information about which pesticides work best for chiggers in your area and how to safely apply them.
- Always follow all directions on pesticide labels. Remember, the label is the law.
- Treat only areas of your yard where chiggers are confirmed to live.
- Don’t overuse pesticides by treating your entire lawn or yard.
- Chigger control usually requires multiple applications of pesticides during the spring.
- Keep children and pets off treated areas until they have dried completely. Don’t allow animals to eat treated plants.
Get Rid of Chiggers on You
You might find little red bumps on your legs or see the bugs themselves. Pay particular attention to searching necklines, shirt and pant cuffs, and the tops of your socks. If bumps or chiggers are found, wash your skin with soap and water in the bath or shower, and wash your clothes in hot water. Also, throw in the wash any towels or blankets that touched the ground.
The bumps will go away with hydrocortisone cream, allergy medication, or rarely, a steroid injection given by your doctor and antibiotics if the sores become infected.
Get Rid of Chiggers on Pets
Wipe off your pet’s face with a soft cloth or vet-recommended wipe. Longer, denser fur should keep the rest of its body protected. If your pet gets bitten, give it a warm bath. Seek treatment for itching from your vet, as home remedies added to bathwater that are espoused online may not work. Bathing your pet with soaps that contain flea and tick repellents can help prevent chigger bites.
Get Rid of Chiggers Indoors
Hot water helps rid your house of chiggers as well. Clean with soapy water that’s at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use a carpet shampooer that has a heat setting. To help prevent them from coming back, just vacuum regularly.