If you have lived in the South long enough, some old coot has probably told you that the best way to treat chigger bites is by applying fingernail polish to your skin. He probably also told you that chiggers burrow into your skin to suck your blood and that the polish suffocates them.
Well, the old coot was wrong. Contrary to popular belief, chiggers — the nearly invisible bright-red arachnids commonly found in tall grass, Spanish moss, and weeds — are incapable of staging #OccupyHuman protests. In fact, they don’t suck your blood, either. Instead, they use saliva to liquefy your flesh and slurp it down. The itch you feel after a chigger bite is the result of your own skin cells hardening around the path of the spit tunnel.
This particular nuisance is probably not on your radar this time of year, as the National Institutes of Health say the most common months for chigger bites are in summer and fall. But once the weather starts warming up again, heed these words of warning from the Missouri Department of Conservation:
Plain old mosquito repellent works on chiggers, too. Apply (and reapply) your spray repellent of choice to clothing openings like shirt cuffs, waistbands, shirt fronts, and boot tops. If you’re really serious about keeping the critters at bay, and if you don’t mind smelling like rotten eggs, powdered sulfur is the ultimate chigger repellent.
When you know you’re going to venture into chigger country, don your tightly woven socks and clothes, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and high shoes or boots.
In your own backyard, you can do your part to destroy chigger habitats by keeping the grass trimmed and pulling out all the weeds and brush.
Chiggers will avoid objects that have reached 99 degrees or hotter. If you need to sit down while traveling through a chigger-infested area in the summer, a metal bench or stone situated in direct sunlight might be a safe bet.
If you do get bitten, the only thing you’ve got to worry about is that infernal itch, which you can treat with benzocaine or an over-the-counter anti-itch cream. North American chiggers do not carry Lyme disease or other diseases.