Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Redbugs/chiggers/ Razorbacks

After all the multiple times viewing Starship Troopers, and all of the sequels, I have often wandered:  why didn’t they just kill those giant bugs with insecticide rather than going after them with people and explosive devices.  Product placement is the norm currently, and a tanker truck full of Roach Killer would do the trick.  But that would make for a short movie and not sell many tickets. 

Recently, during a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, the inner spirit was recharged with the abundance of trees, mountains and flowers by a tour through the Garvin Woodland Gardens. 

Master Gardeners and staff work alongside advisors from the University of Arkansas to tend, and develop displays in the gardens from the fish to the rocks to the flowers and the trees; a trip to these Gardens renews and refreshes.
Refreshes, that is, until one takes one step too many and wanders down the path less traveled which lead to the Hixson Family Nature Preserve.  Aptly named for the feathered friends found along its footpath, the 1.9 mile Birdsong Trail offers resting benches for watching the birds feed at special stations and enjoying some of the best vistas of Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. 

Setting upon one of these benches to rest and hydrate, provided an opportunity for the lowly chigger/redbug to attend a banquet.  Redbugs are nasty little critters.  Chiggers are not insects; they are mites, meaning they are related to spiders and scorpions. Chiggers do not burrow under your skin, and they do not suck your blood.

The chigger's bite produces a whelp that is usually accompanied by severe itching.  Upon exit of the Preserve, festering swellings left behind by their bite was our souvenir for the day. The good news about the feeding cycle of chiggers is that you can save your nail polish for your fingers and toes. If you really want to paint all of those bites, the polish probably will not hurt anything, but it does not smother the mites. Other home remedies, such as bathing in bleach, alcohol and various other substances are not recommended. To ease the itching, use an antihistamine like Benadryl. Calamine lotion, Vaseline and baby oil can help, or you can try using a sunscreen with benzocaine.  A hot, soapy shower works well to wash chiggers from the skin.
Fortunately the common North American chigger/redbug are not known to be disease vectors for humans.   Apart from the insanely itchy welts they leave behind, they are not nearly as potentially harmful as ticks and mosquitoes.

Keeping the home lawn mowed will reduce the number of chiggers that live in it. The mites prefer shade and move to areas with tall grass, weeds, low-growing shrubs, etc. They often congregate when they find a favorable site, which sometimes explains why you get loaded with bites but your friend who sits 10 feet away in the grass has none.
Many researchers say that avoiding chigger-infested areas is the best way to prevent bites. More realistically, when you use insect repellents, re-apply every two to three hours to maintain effectiveness.  Protect your skin by wearing tightly woven clothes that cover as much of your body as possible with minimal openings, applying insect repellents and bathing soon after exposure.

The Fordyce High School Football team in Fordyce, Arkansas is called the Redbugs. That is the kindest statement that can be made about these biting mites.  Their bite leaves behind itching, red and swollen mounds of ooze.  The quest for relief is never ending, sleep is lost, and cover ups are a must.  The internet has over 700,000 sites for the solution to the itching.  As in Starship Troopers, we wish we could blast those little bugs out of the eco system.

Have you found yourself itching yet?