OUTDOORS: Mosquitoes, by comparison, aren’t all that badWORTHINGTON — As the summer progresses, we can all look forward to the pleasures of mosquitoes, ticks and other insects that like to dine on the exposed skin of humans. As mosquitoes go, I think there have been a lot less of them in the past few years. I cannot explain it, but one of the non-scientific hypotheses is that with all of the aerial spraying now done every year to combat soybean aphids, it’s having a killing effect on mosquitoes as well.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — As the summer progresses, we can all look forward to the pleasures of mosquitoes, ticks and other insects that like to dine on the exposed skin of humans. As mosquitoes go, I think there have been a lot less of them in the past few years. I cannot explain it, but one of the non-scientific hypotheses is that with all of the aerial spraying now done every year to combat soybean aphids, it’s having a killing effect on mosquitoes as well.
Whether this is true or not, I like seeing less of those blood suckers.
One other insect I really hate is what I call “no see um’s.” They are those little gnats that are so small they seem to be able to squeeze through even the densest screen. They bite like crazy, and I wonder how something that small can be so annoying.
I had an encounter with the insect that is No. 1 on my list of insects I hate — the dreaded chigger. I have been lucky to avoid this pest for the past several years, but my luck ran out this spring while turkey hunting in southeast Minnesota. I had no idea I was being feasted on until a day or two later, when I was overcome with the desire to itch my ankles until all of the skin was removed.
Chiggers are one of the most misunderstood nuisances on Earth. I actually wrote an article on chiggers four or five years ago. The almost universally-accepted myth is that chiggers either get under your skin or lay eggs under it. The remedy for this under-skin invasion was to cover the bites with fingernail polish to smother the chigger or eggs beneath.
Back in the day, before I did my chigger research, I tried this method. It seemed to provide relief and reduce the itching, but for reasons I cannot explain. In reality, chiggers are insects 1/20 of an inch in length and look a lot like a tick. They are usually red in color and can move rapidly. They winter near or just under the soil level and become active when temperatures get above 60 degrees. The adult lays 15 eggs per day and this cycle takes place three times per year in colder climates and year-round in warmer ones.
Chiggers tend to dwell in wetter, warmer spots. They really like berries, shrubs and heavy grassed areas. One way to see if chiggers are living in your favorite spot is to get a piece of corrugated cardboard about 6 inches square. Paint both sides and the edges black and then set it in the test area so it stands vertically. If chiggers are present they will be all over the very top edge of the cardboard within 5 to 10 minutes.
They can be controlled with the same type of spray-on treatments used for mosquitoes and other biters. They can also be controlled with chemicals found in a can of Yard Guard.
I wished that when I sat down next to the tree that I would not have been as unlucky as to have received at least 20 bites. Chiggers group tightly in a mite island. They can be found in great numbers in one spot and can be completely absent only 25 yards away. Test the area and apply chemical treatment only in the areas that need it. Chiggers like tight spaces and most of your bites will be in areas where cloths are tight, like belt lines and inside the top of socks. This makes them all the worse, because just the act of walking around can irritate those bite areas and make the itching that much worse.
Clothes washed in cold water can still have active chiggers in them and you can start the process all over again. Clothes need to be washed at temperatures over 125 degrees to kill any live chiggers that remain. You can lay your clothes in the hot sun to kill chiggers, but I think I would opt for the hottest water the washing machine can put out.
All you can do for relief if you are as unlucky as me is use anti-itch creams in order to relieve some of the discomfort. In my case, the only thing I think would have really worked was the amputation of both legs below the knees. The itch lasts forever — it was at least three weeks before it wasn’t constantly on my itch radar.
Chiggers do not suck blood like ticks and mosquitoes. They insert their feeding apparatus in a skin pore or hair follicle and inject secretions that break down tissue into liquid form. It is this liquefied tissue they suck up and use as feed. If a chigger stays attached, it takes up to 4 days for it to get its fill.
The well-fed chigger then falls off and starts life as an adult, feeding on the larvae of other insects. And so the life cycle starts over. I hope I will not be one of those humans who get in the middle of the chigger lifecycle anytime soon.
When you consider chiggers, maybe ticks and mosquitoes really aren’t all that bad.