Entomologist: Avoid itchy bites from spiking seasonal chigger populations

chigger bites around ankle

Their small size makes chiggers difficult to see as they leave behind itchy red bite marks. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Writer: Gabe Saldana, 956-408-5040, gabe.saldana@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Mike Merchant, 972-952-9204, Michael.Merchant@ag.tamu.edu

DALLAS — Anyone venturing into the great outdoors this summer in Texas should be ready for chiggers.

That’s the message from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist Dr. Mike Merchant in Dallas. He said reports of chiggers to AgriLife Extension offices have seen a sharp uptick in recent weeks compared with normal seasons over the last 28 years.

“If my phone calls are any indication, this appears to be a whopping chigger season,” he said, adding that unseasonably high temperatures and humidity during June have likely produced perfect conditions for chigger reproduction and higher populations in time for summer.

These nearly microscopic mites climb up a person’s legs, leaving red, itchy bites as high as the armpits and usually concentrated near the “sensitive skin areas” around the waistline. Bites are itchy for a few days and take up to two weeks to disappear.

“They’re my personal worst nightmare,” Merchant said. “The only good thing I can say about chiggers is that, as far as we know, they don’t carry disease.”

Bramble patches, woods and grassy fields are the most common places to encounter chiggers, but the pest can pose a threat even in manicured lawns under the right conditions.

“Workers in our turfgrass breeding program have annual problems with chiggers beginning around late May and early June,” Merchant said, referring to research plots at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas.

He recommends wearing long pants, tucking pant legs into socks, and using a repellent with DEET on shoes and socks. If practical, a quick shower after possible exposure to chiggers can help reduce the number and severity of bites.

More information on controlling chiggers is available at https://citybugs.tamu.edu/chigger-season.

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