What are Chigger Bites?

What are Chigger Bites?  In fact, they aren't really bites at all, at least not in the way we typically think of bed bites.  But regardless, they are very uncomfortable, as they itch intensely, and are often located very close together, and in large numbers on your skin.   Often there are so many bites, they almost resemble a severe rash.

If you think you've been bitten by Chiggers, we'll go over the steps the you need to take right away to keep them from getting worse.  But first, let's take a quick look at what are Chigger bites, and what Chigger bites look like, so you can be sure that's what you're dealing with.

What are Chigger Bites?

Adult Chigger Mite

Chiggers are the common name for the larval stage of the Trombiculidae mite, which loves to live in damp, moist grassy areas, with no direct sunlight.   Trombiculidae mites prefer warm weather, and can generally be found in warm climates, like the Southern and Western United States.

Trombiculidae mites progress through a life cycle to become adults.  Trombiculidae mite, while in the larval stage are called Chiggers, and they need to feed on the skin to progress to an adult.   They cling to grass, waiting for a victim to come by.

When one does, they will jump onto it, and find the first area of exposed skin they can find.  Using claw-like legs, they rip the skin open, inject their saliva, which contains a skin dissolving enzyme, and then drink it up using a straw-like appendage. 

Both the ripping of the skin, combined with the enzyme, causes a skin reaction that varies in severity.  Serious reactions are very common, but the itching doesn't begin right away.  The reaction generally takes 1-2 days to show up, and begin itching.  

The severe itching, generally lasts about a week, sometimes more in people that are highly allergic.

One "chigger bite" is bad enough, but often you'll have multiple chiggers jump on you at one time, causing multiple bites.  Chiggers hatch in large groups, from eggs.  They don't stray far and often clumb together on grass and leaves.  

Once on you, each Chigger will often bite you multiple times while on your skin to engorge themselves, so they can drop off, and continue growing.

The result of all of this after a few days often looks like this:

Chigger Bites

Chigger Bites are pretty distinctive from other bug bites, although they are often confused with flea and bed bug bites.    Chigger Bites have the following unique characteristics:

  • Often in large groups of 10 or more bites
  • Resemble very red, and swollen pimples
  • Itch very severely, much more so than your average bug bite.

>> You can see more photos of Chigger Bites on our Chigger Bite Pictures page and get more information on Chigger Bites themselves in our Chigger Bites Guide.

How to Treat Chigger Bites

Chigger Bites Treatment

Early treatment of Chigger Bites will lessen the long-term discomfort.   If you think you've been bitten by Chiggers, or are already showing signs of Chigger Bites, do the following:

  1. Immediately take off the clothes that may have Chiggers, and wash and dry them, with a detergent.
  2. Immediately take a shower.   If you aren't showing bite signs yet, take a hot shower.  If you are showing bite signs, take a cold shower (the cool water will reduce inflamation).  Wash well using soap.   The shower and soap will kill and remove any remaining Chiggers on your skin
  3. Treat the Chigger Bites, and surrounding areas with any of the popular anti-itch creams, or even better a product like ChiggerX or ChiggAway, that are specifically for Chigger bites.

The best treatment for Chigger Bites is to avoid exposure to Chiggers.   But this is difficult to do unless you know where they are.  If you are going outside, especially into an area that you know has Chiggers, do the following:

  1. Wear boots, long pants, and a long shirt.  Tuck your pants into your boots, or wear insect proof Gaiters.
  2. Cover your body with ChiggAway, or your preferred bug repellent.  Most normal repellents will repel Chiggers, as well as other insects.
  3. Cover your clothing with a clothing-based repellent, such as Sawyer Products SP649 Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 12-Ounce

Don't Scratch!

Other than being incredibly uncomfortable, Chiggers and Chigger Bites don't generally cause serious medical problems.  

That is if you don't scratch them.   Scratching them, and break the top of the skin, they can get infected, which could lead to very serious or life threatened conditions.   

Avoid scratching them at all costs!   If you do, and the area of the bite is warm to the touch, or you begin running a fever, seek medical attention immediately.

Common Chigger and Chigger Bite myths

While we have your attention, let's dispel a few common and very incorrect myths about Chiggers:

  • Chiggers are not microscopic, but they are very small and difficult to see.  Often about the half the size of a period in this article.
  • Chiggers do not "bite", as in use their teeth on your skin.  Instead, they tear open your skin and eat the softer portions.
  • Chiggers DO NOT bury themselves in your skin.   This myth is common due to the pimple-like appearance of the bite.   Chiggers stay on the top of the skin and only attach themselves to feed, using a straw-like appendage.   
  • They do not stay on your skin long.   Generally, only 2-3 days, if allowed.  This is why taking a shower to wash them off is so important.
  • They only feed on human skin during the larval stage.  Once they are adults, they live in the dirt and feed on other insects and plants.

Wrapping Up

While Chigger bites are very uncomfortable, over the counter treatment options are readily available, and generally work very well.   The best way to avoid Chigger bites is to avoid Chiggers, or at the very least, keep them off your skin by covering up when you go out.

Chiggers do not generally cause any serious medical complications, when properly cared for.  You will want to watch out for signs of infection until the bites heal, which generally takes about a week.