Especially at this time of year, I think it’s safe to say there aren’t many things as annoying as chiggers.

I’ve never been one to take much for granted and I’ve always liked knowing why things are the way they are, so years ago when I first fully realized there were these virtually invisible bugs that had a bite capable of causing major itching, fairly sizable welts and plenty of general discomfort, I had to know more about them. Here’s what I found out; you can add this to your file of relatively useless trivia.

Chiggers aren’t actually a bug in their own right, but are the larvae of a mite that’s a member of the Trombiculidae family, called trombiculid mites. They have several nicknames in various regions, including berry bugs, harvest mites, red bugs (I’ve heard that around here), scrub-itch mites, and aoutas (huh?).

These six-legged larvae 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’s 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 and repent of the mischievous ways of their youth.

As youngsters, 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 (and I’ll say undeserving) targets.  Then 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 and sit in rocking chairs on the porch reading gardening magazines.

We’re talking Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a bug. Habitual criminals who experience a complete mental reformation.

It just so weird – and it seems to me that it’s all backward, too.

I thought animals (and bugs) were supposed to get more dangerous (or annoying) as they grow older, not the other way around. I mean, bears start out as cuddly little things before they become capable of chomping off a bread-wielding human’s 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, I can’t think of any other Earthly organism that goes this route, other than human beings who can, for example, consciously decide to stop eating meat after routinely downing it for many years. Maybe there are others, but I just can’t think of them.

It’s so fascinating. As toddlers, chiggers are a clearly visible blip on the irritation radar screen, then poof – gone. They peg the annoy-o-meter in their infancy, then they grow up and don’t even budge 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 bluegill bait, and a chicken would have to eat a million of them to obtain any measurable nourishment.

It’s like chiggers are one of those odd outliers in life, like warts and those little extra toes 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 believe there’s isn’t a good reason He gave the little thingies a spot on the roster of Team Earth.

But just the same, I’d love 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.


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