Chiggers are the larvae (not yet mature) of itch or harvest mites. They are quite tiny (0.15 to 0.40 mm long) but visible to the naked eye (assuming your eyes are betterr than mine). They are white to yellow or orange-red and are found on many animals. Kids and adults pick them up during contact with grassy or shrubby vegetation inhabited by the mites.

The chigger larvae bite and suck a meal1 to nourish their transformation into adult mites. Their anticoagulant saliva is very irritating to the skin, creating extrememly itchy red bumps, classically on the lower legs or somewhat higher in the panty area.

Feeding chiggers may be apparent as tiny reddish blebs embedded in hair follicles. The mites most often attach to skin covered by clothing, especially near belts, straps, or elastic bindings.

The treatment of chigger dermatitis is "symptomatic," meaning treat the itch - the mites go away on their own (washed off in the bath). Anti-itching lotions and creams or oral antihistamines (Benadryl®) are useful. I generally like the over the counter 1% hydrocortisone creams. Secondary infections from all that scratching may require some Neosporin® or similar antibiotic ointment. Insect repellents (containing sulfur or diethyltoluamide - DEET) are helpful in preventing chigger infestation, although avoiding infested areas is the best prevention.

1. This meal is not technically blood, but pre-digested tissue fluid that is sucked up by the chigger mite after injecting its host with a mixture digestive enzymes. It is these enzymes that produce the intense itching.

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