There was a little chigger …

There was a little chigger, that wasn’t any bigger…*

So begins this summertime song, sung by children scratching along in time to the melody. Sad to say, chigger season has returned — and the timing wasn’t so great for our first Sunday afternoon ‘Get-together in Selma’s Garden.’

Our new series of garden programs is a thinly-disguised attempt to recruit volunteers to help in maintaining the gardens at T.C. Steele State Historic Site. Eight brave souls showed up, hoping to learn about Selma Steele’s garden techniques and weed identification, but after doing some hands-on (and in) weed I.D. in the garden, I’m afraid they took home more than just information.

chiggerThat evening as I pulled off my socks, I discovered that chiggers had made their annual come-back. And the next day, e-mails proved that my garden volunteers hadn’t been spared either. I quickly e-mailed back my apologies and my favorite remedy — Vicks VapoRub®, hoping they wouldn’t be discouraged from attending the next session on July 12.

I realized a little research was in order, since my chigger knowledge was scratchy sketchy. I knew they were very small red mites, but was surprised to learn how small — several chigger larvae could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.

They’re not blood-suckers, and they don’t actually burrow under the skin as I’d always believed. Chigger larvae use their mouthparts to pierce into a hair follicle or skin pore, injecting digestive enzymes that break down cells. These cells become liquefied and are sucked up by the mites. The fluid also causes the surrounding tissue to harden — it forms a handy feeding tube which they use to ‘drink in’ more liquid skin. After about four days, the chiggers drop off their hosts, leaving red itchy welts.

I always took chigger bites personally, never considering that they might be tormenting other mammals, reptiles and birds as well. I’d heard that birds would take dust baths to rid themselves of mites, but I didn’t imagine some of those mites might be chiggers. And I always assumed dogs and cats were scratching at fleas — but maybe not.

At least chiggers don’t hang around and multiply on their hosts. After overwintering in the soil, female chiggers lay eggs on vegetation and the eggs hatch into those little larvae we loathe. But in nature, things are rarely black and white, and it turns out that adult chiggers eat mosquito eggs.

I’m no longer scratching my head wondering about chiggers, but I am still scratching my ankles so I think I’ll get out the Vicks.

… and that’s where the rub comes in.*

*In case you’re not familiar with the lyrics to this lovely tune — here goes:

There was a little chigger, that wasn’t any bigger,
Than the point of a teeny-tiny pin.
But the lump that it made, just itches like the blaze,
And that’s where the rub comes in.

Comes in, comes in, and that’s where the rub comes in.
Yes, the lump that it made just itches like the blaze,
And that’s where the rub comes in.

If you believe in the saying “know thy enemy” and can’t get enough of ‘chigger lit,’ here’s a great source for more chigger info.

Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

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3 Responses

  1. you ever use the bleach in the bathtub remedy to kill them and get them off of you?

    also, soaking in an epsom salts bath works WONDERS for taking the itching away after you’ve killed them. It also works great for mosquito bites (self-discovered that last summer) and fire ants

  2. My granddaddy in the Atlanta area taught us a slightly different version of the song, but chiggers itch no matter how you sing about them. 😉

    Oh, there was a little chigger
    And he wasn’t any bigger
    Than the point of a very small pen
    But the bump that he raises
    Just itches like blazes
    And that’s where the rub comes in.

    That’s where the rub comes in
    That’s where the rub comes in
    The bump that he raises
    Just itches like blazes
    And that’s where the rub comes in!

  3. As a boy scout in 1932 I learned the chigger song in a little different version.

    There was a little Chigger
    And he wasn’t any bigger
    Than a wee small point of a pin
    But the bump he raised
    Itched like a blaze
    And that’s where the rubbin comes in
    Even though i rub with salt and grease
    I can never sleep in peace
    Cause tha’s where the rubbin comes in

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