Chiggers I Have Known

Gullah House on Haig Point Rd

I was traipsing around in the woods checking out old houses

I hadn’t lived on Daufuskie very long when I became intimately acquainted with chiggers. I had been traipsing through the woods checking out historical houses for the better part of the day. It was hot, so I was wearing shorts with tennis shoes and socks.

When I got home, I started itching. This was not your ordinary itch, mind you, nor was it confined to a location even remotely conducive to socially acceptable public scratching. The itch started at the top of my thighs marched right on around to a place  where–as we Southerners say– “the sun don’t shine.”

I didn’t know they were chiggers– as a matter of fact, I don’t think I had even heard of chiggers at that point– I just knew that something was eating my Yah-Yah alive. No matter how many showers I took, how many Loofahs or Brillo pads I used in an attempt to scratch off the guilty layer of itching skin, how many bottles of Benedryl, $75 poison ivy medicine, rubbing alcohol or calamine lotion I poured on my skin (yes, I tried them all), I got no relief.

When I finally surrendered and ventured out of the house to go to the doctor, some long- time islanders spotted me scratching. ( I really don’t think they could have missed me, frantic as I was at that point.) Without missing a beat and, in perfect unison, all three of them said, “You’ve got chiggers.”

Chiggers? I thought I had the world’s worst case of poison ivy or some exotic woman-eating flesh disease. “I’ve got CHIGGERS?”

One of the men told me I needed to “cover ’em up with fingernail polish” while the others nodded agreement. “One time the only color we had in the house was red,” the Chigger War veteran chuckled, “and my whole butt was covered in “Chianti Hot Tamale” for two weeks before it finally peeled off.”

The islanders’ prescription worked. Now I keep a bottle or two of #771 Clear Laquer in my medicine cabinet. I think I’ll write to Revlon and suggest they rename the polish “Chigger Clear.” I guarantee they would sell out around these parts. (Keep reading for more unconventional and conventional ways to manage chigger bites.)

 Some More Cures

Chigger Bites

Chiggers are some of Daufuskie’s most persistent pests

On a trip to Cumberland Island, GA, veteran Park Ranger Rene Noe, who lived on the island for 30 years, told us that Listerine “Gold” (the “Mint” flavor won’t work) is a great way to keep chiggers away. I trust she knows what she’s talking about, but I’ve never tried it. Listerine is also listed in Grandma’s Home Remedies for Chigger Bites although they don’t specify a flavor. I wish I had found this website during my chigger battle, but then again, I didn’t know  it was chiggers who were waging the war!

Phil Says The Best Cure is a Prescription

Phil Sams is Daufuskie Island's "Bug Man"

Phil Sams is Daufuskie Island’s “Bug Man”

According to Phil, known on Daufuskie as “The Bug Man,” the only thing that really works on chiggers is 5% Permethrin Creme. He says you can pick it up at Walgreens for about $35, but you have to have a prescription. For that Phil recommends the Cross Island Clinic (walk in).

“If you rub the cream in within 8 hours after the first itch, then its G…O…N…E …gone, gone, completely gone within 8 to 10 hours. But you got to get to ’em when they first start chewing. The creme also works on ticks and lice which are also rampant between April and Thanksgiving. Phil grins, “Palmetto Bugs , Palmetto Trees, Palmetto State…You think maybe they’re all connected?”

Chiggers- What You Hope You’ll Never Need to Know

Information adapted from one of my favorite books: A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell

* Chiggers are mites. There are more than 700 species throughout the world; fewer than fifty of these feed on humans.

* Chiggers are often confused with Chigoes, which are insects found only in the deep South that burrow under the skin to lay their eggs. Chiggers resemble Chigoes but chiggers do not burrow and are not insects.

* Chiggers are so small we don’t know they’ve been feeding on us until we start to itch.

* Adult chiggers are a bright orangey color which are visible to the naked eye. The problems occur when the adults lay minute eggs that we can’t see and from which larval chiggers hatch. It’s these little guys that cause the full allergy alarms to go off as they start feeding on our human flesh.

* Chiggers like a protected spot on which to feed so they often choose places where clothing fits tightly, i.e. ankles, crotch, waist and armpits.

* Chiggers don’t bite; instead they inject an enzyme into the skin which dissolves bits of the flesh which the chigger then sucks up. If left undisturbed, the chigger makes a small tube or well called a stylostome and continues to feed.

* If the larva can stay on the host for about three days-long enough for a full feed- when engorged he drops off and crawls to a protected place on the ground to await transformation. Then his body parts melt down and reconstitute themselves into a pupa like creature which eventually becomes an adult predator; then the cycle begins again!

* The good news is that you can develop a tolerance to chiggers which means you may not suffer such a severe allergic reaction next time you’re chosen for the host.

“…folks here are asking one another if they happened to attend one of the funerals held for the five chiggers that died during the cold winter.” Sue Hubbell, A Country Year: Living the Questions



Be Sociable, Share!
%d bloggers like this: