Chigger Management For Wildlife Photographers

July 05, 2020  •  2 Comments

Chigger Management For Wildlife Photographers by Tim LaytonChigger Management For Wildlife Photographers by Tim Layton As a wildlife photographer if you haven't almost been driven out of your mind by chigger bites, then you probably aren't a true wildlife photographer! Chiggers live in every country around the world, so this is a universal issue for all wildlife photographers. 

It is impossible to avoid natural conditions where chiggers live as a wildlife photographer, so the normal advice of staying away from tall grasses/weeds and heavy undergrowth simply isn't going to cut it.

Chiggers are invisible to the naked eye, so it may seem like there's not much you can do to keep from being bitten and coping with the maddening itching.  

It isn't all bad news.  There are some things you can do to help prevent getting chigger bites and I will share them in the list below.

I use my Nikon D6 and D500 digital cameras along with my Nikon F6 35mm film SLR to create digital negatives for making handmade analog fine art prints in my darkroom.  I love to create platinum and palladium and silver gelatin prints because of their ethereal beauty and elegance.

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MY CHIGGER MANAGEMENT ROUTINE

Keep in mind that I am a wildlife photographer, not a medical professional.  So, if you decide to use any of my methods for yourself, do so at your own risk and I do not imply any warranty for the advice below. 

1 - Wear long sleeves and tightly woven fabric pants.  This acts as a physical barrier that can help keep chiggers off your body.  Don't forget to tuck in your pant legs in your boots or use rubber bands around your ankles while in the field. 

2 - Use DEET repellent on your clothes.  Some people may be allergic to DEET, so proceed with caution. 

3 - Remove your clothes immediately in the field when you get back to your vehicle or when you return home or to your hotel.  The sooner you can get your field clothes off, the better your chances for avoiding the nightmare of chigger itches. 

I take a second set of clothes with me each time I go into the the field and I wash off my legs, arms, and chest area with hot soapy water inside my van.  Chiggers like ankles, behind your knees, waistline, under your arms, etc.  Basically anywhere your skin touches or folds is a treat to chiggers. After my field washig, I apply a brusque toweling to further dislodge or crush any remaining larvae.  This technique can also be helpful if you can't wash with hot soapy water.  Then I put my field clothes in a trash bag and take home for washing later. 

4 - Shower/Clean with hot soapy water ASAP.  Hot water and soap can kill chiggers.  Chiggers can survive warm or cool water, so make that shower as hot as you can stand it. Lather up several times and rinse thoroughly because chiggers can wander around on your body for hours before going to work on your skin.  Don't forget to apply a brusque toweling to further dislodge or crush any remaining larvae and then put that towel in your trash bag with your field clothes. 

If you do end up with chigger bites anyway, I immediately wipe the chigger bite with apple cider vinegar or rubbing alcohol and then treat with calamine lotion as needed. 

CHIGGERS 101

Chiggers, sometimes called the “redbug” or “harvest mite,” are the larval stage of a mite and technically they are not insects. Chiggers are "arachnids," in the same family as spiders and ticks. During summer, chigger larvae climb onto people and animals while they walk around in infested outdoors vegetation. Chiggers are parasites and their feeding leaves intensely itchy, small reddish welts on the skin that can just about drive you mad. 

Chigger bites often develop tiny red bumps that look like blisters, tiny hives, or small pimples.

People are often bitten by chiggers around the ankles, waist, under arms, and in skin folds after they have been in an outdoor area infested with chigger mites.

The chigger larvae must feed on animal tissue in order to mature. The chigger mite is only parasitic during the larvae stage of its lifecycle.

Larvae wait in large numbers on the tops of grass, leaves, and twigs – usually less than a foot off the ground – for a warm-blooded animal to brush past. They are attracted to the carbon dioxide exhaled by the host and are sensitive to movement. Typically, dozens or more chigger larvae will fasten onto a host at one time.

Once on the host, the chigger larvae look for possible feeding sites. Often chiggers will stop to feed where their movement has been impeded by tight clothing such as a waistband, sock top, or even a backpack strap. The back of knees, under arms, between thighs, in the crook of elbows, and other areas where the skin is folded or thin are also prime feeding areas for the chigger larvae.

To feed, the chigger inserts its mouthparts, called chelicerae, into the host’s skin; usually in a skin pore or hair follicle. Once the chigger is attached, it secretes saliva, which contains proteolytic enzymes, into the host’s skin. The digestive enzymes liquefy the skin tissue so the chigger can ingest it.

The area around the chigger bites soon hardens and a feeding tube, called a sylostome, forms in the puncture wound. It is the feeding tube that causes the itchy, red bump.

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Comments

Joseph Sambataro(non-registered)
In the Ocala Nat'l Forest, close to Ocala, FL, I had my first introduction to chiggers. The second time was also in Marion County FL. Strangely I never did get dosed in the Everglades.

Respectfully,
Joseph Sambataro
Doug(non-registered)
Thanks for the info. I guess I qualify as a Landscape Photographer with the number of Chigger bites I’ve had over the years. Not fun.
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