Prior to coming to the Jillikins, I had no real experience with chiggers.
In Georgia, people talked about them, so I knew there must have been some of them around, but I never dealt with any first-hand. In Washington, well, there were banana slugs, but no microscopic little biting entities.
I’ve never been one to take much for granted and I’ve always liked knowing why things are the way they are. So when I heard there were these virtually invisible bugs that had a bite capable of causing major itching, fairly sizable welts and plenty of general discomfort, I felt led to find out more about them. When I came to Texas County and realized I had marks on my own legs that were likely the work of chiggers, I had to know more.
Here’s what I found out – add this to your useless trivia file.
Apparently, chiggers are the larvae of a mite that’s a member of the Trombiculidae family (doesn’t matter to me how that’s pronounced) called trombiculid mites (again, I’m thinking the pronunciation is irrelevant). They’re also called berry bugs, harvest mites, red bugs (I’ve heard that around here), scrub-itch mites, and aoutas (huh?).
These six-legged larva feed on the skin cells – but not blood – of animals, including humans. They don’t really “bite,” but rather form a hole in the skin and chew up tiny parts of the inner skin, thus causing irritation and swelling.
After feeding on their hosts, the larvae drop to the ground and become nymphs, then mature into eight-legged adults that are harmless to humans and eat plant material.
So let me get this straight – as kids, the things are dastardly little demon-bugs plotting when and where to annoy and cause discomfort to flesh-covered life forms thousands of times their size.
Then they grow up, add a pair of legs, repent of the mischievous ways of their youth and basically lose interest in being a 24-7 irritation machine.
As young ‘uns, they occupy tiny little bodies that pack a whole lot of punch, and spend every waking hour on a mission to wreak havoc on unsuspecting, undeserving targets.
As adults, they adopt a kinder, gentler lifestyle and coexist minus the antagonistic, parasitic tendencies.
In their adolescent stage, they act like puny mad scientists laughing hysterically as they suck small amounts of life out of their experimental “hosts.”
After growing up, they join itty-bitty animal activist groups, collect vegetarian cookbooks, wear button-down sweaters and sit in rocking chairs on the porch reading gardening magazines.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a bug. Habitual criminals who experience a mid-life reformation.
It seems to me that it’s all backwards, too.
I thought animals (and bugs) were supposed to get more dangerous (or annoying) as they grow older, no the other way around. I mean, bears start out as cuddly little things before they become capable of chomping off a bread-wielding human hand at the wrist, and horse flies aren’t going to take a very big chunk out of someone’s thigh when they’re in the maggot stage.
In fact, other than human beings who can consciously decide to stop eating meat after routinely downing it for many years, I can’t really think of any other living thing that goes this route (there probably are – I just can’t think of them).
A clearly visible blip on the irritation radar screen as a toddler, then poof – gone. Pegging the annoy-o-meter in its infancy, then not even budging the needle.
I was talking with someone recently about the very existence of chiggers and the inevitable question of “why?” came up.
They’re too small to use as goggle-eye bait, and it would take too many of them to make a decent batch of ice cream (you heard about the cicada ice cream at Sparky’s in Columbia, right?). They just seem to be one of those extras in life, like warts and those little toe-like deals on the back of a dog’s leg.
To be sure, God is in no way subject to even the slightest obligation to justify anything in His creation. If He wants chiggers, chiggers it is – and one would be silly to not assume there’s a good reason the little thingies have been given a spot on the roster of Team Earth.
But just the same, it would be fascinating (extremely so) to hear the Lord talk about the whole chigger deal.
And ticks. And mosquitoes. And eggplant.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.