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Possumhaw: Chiggers, mosquitoes, ants, oh my


Shannon Bardwell



The Prairie is not always paradise. Momma used to say, "I'm glad not everybody likes the same thing 'cause then everybody'd want my Henry." Dad wasn't named Henry, but we got the point.  


If all was perfect then everyone would want to live in the Prairie; then it'd be expensive and full of people, and I couldn't and wouldn't want to live here myself. So Prairie folks tolerate a few inconveniences. 


My sister-in-law, Rose, and her husband, Tim, traveled down from the Kentucky bluegrass to spend the weekend; the visit was delightful. We fed the ducks and rabbits and viewed the flowers and the greenhouse, took walks and watched Tim and Sam fish the lakes and later cooked crappie. 


When we called to make sure our guests arrived home safely, Rose said she was ate up with chiggers. Rose wasn't the first or the last guest to have the chigger experience. Chiggers congregate around the rabbit pens under the cedar trees. I've had a few chigger bites myself, so I learned a few things about chiggers.  


Itching from chigger bites starts about 24 to 48 hours after the bite, which would coincide with Rose's arrival back in Kentucky.  


Chiggers are too tiny to see unless you find them in clumps where they look red, and so sometimes they're called red bugs. Chiggers do not suck blood like mosquitoes, they bite. The chigger's salvia causes the skin around the bite to harden until they make a straw-like structure. Then, I'm sorry to say, the salvia liquefies the skin and they feed off it. It all sounds like some late night horror show, but all of this is too tiny to see and by the time you start the itching the chigger is already gone. Chiggers do not bore into the skin, so putting fingernail polish on your skin is useless; the completely fed little nymph falls away and is on its way to becoming an adult. 


You can easily tell the difference between chigger and mosquito bites by their location. Mosquitoes go for exposed skin where they can land. Chiggers, which are mites, which are arachnids and not insects, go for covered areas. Chiggers attach at pant cuffs, shirt sleeves and collars then migrate their way to accessible areas like wrinkles (not that anybody has any of those), folds of skin or thin skin. Chiggers will gather at constricted areas like belted or elastic areas because they are prevented from migrating elsewhere.  


Chigger bites are uncomfortable but not deadly, unlike disease-carrying mosquitoes that happen to be the most deadly animal on the planet. Chiggers can be controlled with the chemical Permethrin.  


While Permethrin is toxic to cats, fish and honeybees, it is not toxic to most mammals and birds. If you find chiggers really unnerving, they make clothing that contains Permethrin, which might be a good Christmas gift for Rose and Tim if they decide to come back.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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