There are two annoying creatures that invade my little corner of the world during the summer months – tourists and chiggers.
According to the dictionary, a chigger is a 6-legged mite larva that sucks the blood of vertebrates and causes intense irritation.
This also describes my ex-wife, except she only has two legs.
A harvest mite is one of 30,000 species of mites. It passes through four stages -- egg, larva, nymph and adult. In the larva stage, it is commonly known as a chigger.
Chiggers are prevalent throughout the southern part of the United States, particularly within a hundred yards of where I call home. They are so tiny I’ve never actually seen one but I have ample evidence they're keeping tabs on me at all times.
Much like my ex-wife, chiggers prefer shade and moist areas. Chiggers live where they are protected by vegetation, such as around shrubs, plants, grass, mulch and overgrown wild areas.
My ex-wife lives in Houston where she is protected by her latest husband, two neurotic cats and a can of mace.
During the winter months, chiggers hang out a few inches below the surface, mostly discussing politics and their plans for the summer.
In the spring, the adults emerge to lay eggs. Shortly thereafter, the eggs hatch into the larva stage to officially become chiggers.
That’s when the fun begins.
Chiggers can detect movement and have the ability to sense a food source from a great distance. Unlike most other mites, they're able to move rapidly and travel a long way to forage for food.
Chiggers have a voracious appetite for flesh, especially the human variety. They'll crawl all over a person seeking a spot with a tight fit, such as under the socks or under a waistband.
At 1/120 inch in diameter, they're even able to squeeze through the mesh of most fabrics.
Once a chigger has found its way to the dinner table, it will puncture the skin, inject saliva and liquefy the flesh, enabling it to suck its meal. The injected saliva also contains a substance that prevents the blood from clotting and temporarily anesthetizes the area so it won’t be detected until after the meal is finished.
After dining on the flesh, the chigger drops off the host.
Later, the host will be left with a red bump, created by digestive fluids, which will cause a very intense itch.
For the chigger, long since gone by now, a short period of development follows where the larva molts into a non-parasitic nymph that will soon mature to the adult stage. The entire life cycle takes only 50-70 days.
Like everything else on earth, chiggers serve a purpose. They make us introspective and humble knowing we’re nothing more than a dinner platter for another living creature in nature's food chain.
On the positive side, they keep those pesky tourists from moving down here and spoiling the ambiance.
The worst thing about being a tourist is being recognized as a tourist. They're a lot like chiggers -- they make me itch long after they're gone.
Quote for the Day – "I quit flying years ago -- I don't want to die with tourists." Billy Bob Thornton
Bret Burquest is the author of 12 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and where chiggers enjoy the ambiance.