Whether you know them as harvest mites, berry bugs, or red bugs, chiggers are a common pest faced by many homeowners around the world. Even though these miniscule pests aren’t dangerous or carriers of disease, they do have a nasty bite that leaves behind painful, itchy red welts on the skin of their victim. They thrive in shady, humid areas, such as among tall grasses, or in areas near forests or bodies of water.
There are several methods you can use to get rid of chiggers in your yard, which include reducing heavy vegetation, keeping the lawn mowed short, limiting moisture in the lawn, and applying sulfur to chigger hot spots.
In this article, we explain how to identify chiggers, how to kill chiggers in your yard using diatomaceous earth, and how to get rid of chiggers and prevent them from returning for good. We’ve also included some guidance on how to treat chigger bites if you suspect that you’ve been bitten, and the measures you can take to protect yourself from chigger bites in the future.
What Are Chiggers?
Chiggers, also known as trombiculid mites, harvest mites, berry bugs, and red bugs, are the immature form of adult mites in the ‘Trombicula’ genus. They are barely visible to the human eye, with their body measuring 1/150th of an inch, and live on the ground among long grass, plants, and shrubbery, wherever the vegetation is moist and long enough to protect them from the sun.
Where are Chiggers Found?
These pests can be found in countries throughout the world. In the United States, they are particularly prevalent in the midwest and the south, as they thrive in the constant heat and humidity of these regions. They are most active during the spring, summer, and fall, but this activity dies down over winter, as they don’t do well in temperatures cooler than 60 degrees Faranheit.
Are Chiggers Insects?
Although many people believe that chiggers are insects, they are actually arachnids, and therefore in the same family as spiders and ticks. Like spiders, adult chiggers have eight legs and don’t possess the ability to fly. With that said, they are able to move very quickly and have the ability to sense the movement of other creatures from afar. Immature chiggers eat flesh and will use these two aforementioned skills to actively seek out and attack prey.
Do Chiggers Bite?
In their adult form, chiggers don’t bite. However, in their immature larval stages, these nearly-microscopic organisms have an appetite for flesh, and will actively seek out mammals, amphibians, and reptiles to latch onto and feed off, including humans. Despite the fact they can’t fly, chiggers are able to move very quickly and are also capable of sensing movement – so they are very well-equipped to go after any potential food sources that enter their vicinity.
How Do Chiggers Bite?
Using this ability to detect movement, chiggers lay in wait for a potential host to walk into their habitat. Once the chigger has detected and successfully crawled onto an unwitting victim, it latches onto their skin using its sharp, jaw-like claws. Instead of sucking blood like a mosquito or bed bug would, chiggers have a feeding tube that projects from their mouth, enabling them to inject the host with their salivary fluid; this fluid contains digestive enzymes that break down the tissue and cells in the host’s skin, which the chigger then sucks up to consume as food. The salivary fluid is what leaves the host with an itchy, painful welt, or ‘bite’. After the chigger has had its fill of skin cells, it will immediately drop off the host – contrary to the common and incorrect belief that chiggers burrow under hosts’ skin and stay there.
How to Prevent Chigger Bites
Surprisingly, chiggers aren’t actually that good at biting, and for this reason they tend to aim for areas where your skin is thinner. They will often go for the soft, light, moist areas of the body, so these are the areas that you need to take extra care to protect. They also like to go for the areas on your body where your clothing fits the tightest, including the tops of socks, around the waistband, in armpits, and around the groin.
1. Wear Protective Clothing
Before going out into a known chigger hot spot or an area where they’re likely to be, you should dress in protective clothing to cover up as much of your skin as possible. When dressing, you should pay special attention to where there are wrinkles, folds, or thin skin, such as your ankles, shins, groin, wrists, bra line, armpits, and the backs of your knees. Clothes with tightly woven fabrics are the best, as chiggers are small enough to fit through the gaps between the threads of loosely-woven fabrics. Wear loose-fitting pants and loose long-sleeve shirts made from any tightly woven fabric, and tuck your pants into thick socks worn underneath tall shoes or boots. For an extra protective layer, wear a pair of pantyhose or tights beneath your pants, as chiggers are unable to bite through this kind of fabric.
2. Spray Exposed Skin and Clothes With DEET Repellant
Insect repellents containing diethyltoluamide, or DEET, can be used to effectively repel chiggers and other mites. Read the instructions on the label of your repellant of choice carefully – we suggest using the OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray, as it contains 25% DEET and will provide long lasting protection against chiggers and other pests. Spray the repellent directly onto any areas of your skin that will be exposed, paying particular attention to your hands, arms, and legs, and also apply it to any clothing in these areas. The treatment should last around 2 to 3 hours, after which you will need to reapply it. Avoid spraying the repellent near your mouth, eyes, and on skin that will be covered by clothing, as doing so can cause irritation in these areas.
3. Treat Clothes With Permethrin Treatments
Permethrin repellents can also be used to repel chiggers, however, they are only intended to be applied to clothing and never directly onto your skin. Again, read the instructions on the label of your chosen brand of repellant carefully – we recommend using the Repel Permethrin Clothing & Gear Insect Repellent spray as it is odorless and will remain effective for up to two weeks after it has been applied. Apply the repellent to the inside and outside of your clothes, paying extra attention to openings around cuffs, necks, and the hems of the clothing. Wait until the treatment has completely dried before putting on the clothes. The treatment should remain effective for up to two weeks after the initial application and can withstand one or two washes before it is removed.
4. Sprinkle Sulfur Powder on Socks and Shoes
Sulfur acts as a natural repellant of chiggers, as they are sensitive to its strong odor. Applying a fine dusting of sulfur powder on your shoes and socks can add an extra line of defense close to the ground where the chiggers will be lurking. If you can stand the smell, apply the sulfur to the inside of your shirt and pants as well for enhanced protection. You can purchase a bag of pure sulfur powder here.
5. Brush Off Exposed Skin Every 15 – 30 Minutes While Outside
Chiggers won’t necessarily latch on to your skin the moment that they come into contact with it. While you’re outside, brush over the exposed areas of your skin every 15 to 30 minutes to minimize the number of chiggers latching onto your body. You could also use a towel or soft bristled brush to brush off your clothes at the same time.
6. Wash Clothes and Body As Soon As You Return From Being Outside
When you return from being outdoors, put your clothes in the washing machine and then head straight for the bathroom to have a bath or shower. This is especially important to do if you have been in an area that suits the conditions of a potential chigger hot spot, such as in the woods or through tall grasses. You should set your clothes to wash on a cycle that is at least 125 degrees Fahrenheit and lasts for at least 30 minutes, otherwise it won’t kill the chiggers or wash them away. When washing yourself, you should use soap, hot water, and a washcloth to scrub your skin vigorously and get rid of chiggers that may be trying to attach themselves, or are already attached to your body.
How to Treat Chigger Bites
Due to their minuscule size and weak bite, it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t feel anything when the chigger is in the act of latching on and biting you. You will first be aware that you’ve been bitten by a chigger until about 3 to 6 hours later, when the itching sets in. Within the following 10 to 16 hours, large red welts will appear at the location of any bites on your body, at which point the chiggers will have already dropped off. After this, it may take anywhere between one and three weeks for the bites to heal.
As soon as you suspect that you’ve been bitten, take a hot shower and scrub your body with soap and water to get rid of chiggers still attached to your body. When the welts start to appear, clean them with an antiseptic solution. Do your best to avoid scratching the welts, as this can cause them to become infected. Instead, you can apply an over-the-counter anti-itch medication such as this Swan Calamine Lotion or this Hydrocortisone Cream from Cerave. Alternatively, press ice against the bites to temporarily relieve the pain and itch. If the welts become infected or don’t seem to be healing well, see a doctor as soon as possible.
How to Identify Chiggers in Yard
Where Are Chiggers Found?
Chiggers can be found in a variety of places, thriving anywhere where they can live close to the ground among damp, overgrown vegetation that is thick enough to shade them from the sun. The largest populations of chiggers are most often found in swampy areas, areas with tall grass, dense bushes and shrubs, brambles, and in transition zones such as the edges of wooded areas or areas near bodies of water.
What Do Chiggers Look Like?
Chiggers are miniscule pests, so small that they are almost impossible to see with the naked eye. They’re colored in warm tones of red, orange, and yellow, and when seen up close they look like a cross between a tiny spider and a tiny crab. They’re covered in long surface hairs, and have an oval shaped body similar to ticks, a close relative of their species. Adult chiggers have eight legs, while larval chiggers have only three. As a note, red-colored chiggers can easily be mistaken for clover mites, which are similar small, red creatures.
How to Identify If There Are Chiggers in Yard
The most obvious tell-tale sign that there are chiggers in your yard is if you have noticed large, red, itchy bumps appearing on your skin (or pets’ skin) after spending time in the affected area. To find out for sure whether you’re dealing with these pests, follow the method below.
1. Wear Protective Clothing
Wear clothing that covers your whole body, making sure no areas are exposed and vulnerable to being bitten by the chiggers.
2. Find Chigger Hotspot
Find a spot in your yard where the chiggers are likely to be in high concentration. This will be a part of your yard that’s moist, in the shade, and has tall, thick vegetation. Chiggers will avoid places that are hot and sunny, and can’t be found in dry ground or mowed grass.
3. Place Cardboard on Hotspot
At this step, it should be noted that you won’t necessarily find chiggers in all areas of dense vegetation throughout your yard. The adult female mites tend to lay their eggs in one location, which is why the larva often seem to be clustered in one concentrated area. So, if your test shows that you don’t have chiggers in one shady, humid, overgrown spot, repeat these steps on the other potential hotspots in your yard to make sure they aren’t gathering anywhere else.
Take a black piece of cardboard that’s about 6 inches by 6 inches, and place it upright on the ‘hotspot’ area of your yard with thick vegetation that you identified in the previous step. Leave the cardboard there for several minutes. If you do have chiggers, you should start to see them rapidly crawling up and down the cardboard, and gathering near the top of it.
How to Kill Chiggers in Yard
1. Identify Chigger Hot Spots in Yard
If you haven’t done so already, identify the areas of your yard where the chiggers are clustering. This is a key step before the application of any natural or chemical insecticides, as you should only use these substances to treat the hotspots instead of the entire yard.
Method: You can determine these areas by propping up 6×6 inch pieces of black cardboard throughout your yard in every overgrown, damp, and shady spot. Wait for 15 to 30 minutes, and then check which pieces have clusters of chiggers on them – take note of where these hotspots are in your yard.
2. Apply Diatomaceous Earth on Chigger Hot Spots
Apply diatomaceous earth onto the chigger hot spots that you identified in the first step. Diatomaceous earth is a fine, white, powdery substance made out of the fossils of small aquatic creatures called diatoms. It has both a dehydrating and lacerating effect when it comes into contact with pests, which is why it is often used as a natural, organic pesticide to get rid of chiggers and other garden pests such as ants. When ingested, the diatomaceous earth will kill chiggers by dehydrating them. And, if chiggers walk over the diatomaceous earth, the granules are so sharp that they will kill the pests by cutting into them.
Method: Purchase some diatomaceous earth, such as this Safer Crawling Insect Killer which has been specially formulated to eliminate ticks, ants, and other crawling pests. Wear protective clothing including gloves, goggles, and a face mask. Either by hand or using a lawn spreader, apply the diatomaceous earth around your yard’s perimeter, and spread it over the identified chigger hotspots. Pay extra attention to the areas that have the ideal shady, overgrown, humid conditions in which chiggers are often found.
3. Spray Chigger Hot Spots With Insecticide
Ideally, you should purchase an insecticide that has been specially formulated to kill chiggers or mites. The next best option is to look for an insecticide that contains any one of these ingredients: bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, chlorpyrifos, carbaryl, cyhalothrin, diazinon bifenthrin, or permethrin. All of these chemicals will kill chiggers effectively, with liquid spray insecticides containing bifenthrin being the most effective method of application. If you opt for a granular insecticide, pick one that contains bifenthrin.
Method: Read the label of your chosen insecticide and follow the application safety instructions closely. Wear protective clothing, taking extra care to protect your eyes and skin from coming into contact with the insecticide during application. Treat the affected areas. Repeat the treatment 2 to 3 weeks later if necessary for a larger or persistent infestation.
How to Get Rid of Chiggers in Yard For Good
Reduce Heavy Vegetation
Chiggers thrive in overgrown areas of thick vegetation where they’re shaded and protected from the sun. To prevent chigger infestations in your yard, you should completely eliminate overgrown areas of grass or plants such as these, or at the very least reduce them as much as possible. Use a rake to remove any grass clippings, leaves, branches, and other plant debris from your lawn. Trim down hedges and shrubbery, and treat any weeds with weed killer.
Keep Lawn Mowed As Short As Possible
Chiggers live on the ground, and rely on areas of tall, thick vegetation to survive. You can discourage chiggers from taking over your lawn by keeping the grass mowed as short as possible, paying extra attention to the edges of the lawn where it meets landscape beds or wooded areas. Be careful not to scalp the grass, otherwise you may end up with yellowing or dead grass that will require repair.
Limit Moisture in Yard
Without moisture or a consistent source of water, chiggers won’t be able to survive in your lawn, as they are repelled by dry conditions. Identify anything in your yard that may be adding excessive moisture to it, such as leaky hoses, faucets, sprinklers, and objects designed to collect rainwater, and repair, replace, or remove these sources as necessary. Also, adjust your watering schedule so that you’re only watering the lawn when absolutely necessary.
Planting marigolds is an organic and extremely eco-friendly way to repel chiggers from your lawn. Chiggers can’t stand marigolds, so you should plant them around your home and in potential chigger hot spots to act as a natural repellant for the pests.
Apply Sulfur to Chigger Hot Spots
Another organic method of repelling chiggers from your lawn is to apply sulfur in either powered or pellet form to potential hot spots. Chiggers are repelled by sulfur as it disrupts their metabolism, making it an effective miticide. An additional benefit of this method is that sulfur is one of the essential macronutrients needed by plants, so by applying it to your lawn, you’re improving the fertility of your soil at the same time as treating it for chiggers.
Discourage Other Animals From Entering Your Yard
Chiggers feed on mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, so you should do what you can to prevent these animals from entering and hanging around your yard. Get rid of sources of water to discourage amphibians and reptiles, and remove areas of dense foliage to do the same for small mammals. In addition to this, make sure that your yard is properly fenced, and keep your trash cans covered.
Remove All Trash From Yard and Empty Out Trash Cans
As is the case for many garden pests, chiggers enjoy lurking in dark, damp areas, making trash an ideal habitat for them. They are drawn to the moisture that collects beneath old food wrappers, newspapers, plastic bags, and other trash that’s sitting in a full trash can or out on the lawn. Ensure that you regularly empty any trash cans around your lawn, and keep the lawn clear of any trash or debris that may provide the damp habitat that chiggers love so much.