Welcome to Chigger Season

             “Wake up! Time to die!”, screams legendary singer-songwriter, W. Axl Rose, front man for American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, as he and the rest of the band dive into one of their most popular hits, “Welcome to the Jungle”. On a normal, hot, windless day during summer vacation in North Texas, Rose and the rest of the band have the impractical task of motivating me enough to get out of bed and to football practice. And because of my personal distaste of having to sprint the entire length of the field as punishment, they always succeed. These were how my summers were like in high school. Those who have played football in high school know, especially in Texas, there’s no such thing as an off-season. While your peers are out on road trips, hanging out at the community pool, or even stuck at home on the Xbox playing the most-recent title of Call of Duty online with their buddies; your two feet are required to be wearing your cleats and on the field for conditioning. Every day, you meet nature and, for some, a least-favorite subject; science. ‘Great; even in the summer, you can’t escape science’ - Typical famous words of many high schoolers during summer break. You sweat as your body tries to cool you down because of the grueling heat. You run through a dormant, brown-colored field of grass as anticipating burs attach themselves to your hair, your socks, and to your shorts. Sometimes you get red marks on your legs that itched and hurt for days and have to power through training with itching and all. And as your heart beats rapidly because of the cardiovascular exercise, you struggle to breathe as your coach reminds you, “There’s no air down there.” You lift your head and push through to see another day. But you don’t forget; this is Texas, during the summer – where nature seemingly loves to mess with you.

            When the temperatures rise, so does the chance of encountering an insect. How come? Well, for the most part, many species of nature go into their own distinctive modes of hibernation. Some choose to migrate to warmer areas when the seasons change. And even a few think its best to wait out the cold weather by camping inside your home. (Totally not a viable reason to call EcoSafe for your pest control needs. *wink*) Nonetheless, they simply pass the time and continue their normal lives whenever the warmth returns.

            It’s essential to become aware of the many bugs and insects that are commonly seen during the warmer seasons in your neck of the woods, because some of them can pose a serious threat to your health. For example, here in North Texas, our communities watch out for bees and wasps whose stings can trigger severe allergic reactions. Both dog and black-legged ticks can make people very sick and can even spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. What would you do if you were bit by a tick and couldn’t eat red meat anymore? This can happen. Mosquitoes definitely take the cake, however, as they can be quite dangerous since they spread various diseases, a handful which are deadly. West Nile Virus and Zika spread by mosquitoes has become a serious threat in the United States in recent years. Even without disease, mosquito bites can drive anyone up a wall.

            But this is Texas, baby! See, my story has nothing to do with mosquitoes, or bees – but, in fact, a pesky, little critter that I could hardly even see with my own two eyes. Say hello to the Chiggers. Chiggers are the immature stage of certain mites belonging to the family, Trombiculidae. These mites are the cause for most of the itchy, summertime bites that occur after walking outdoors through grassy or brushy areas. Chiggers are very small, normally light red in color, and are covered in hairs. They attach themselves to various animals and feed on skin. This causes intensely itchy, red bumps on humans – itching that does not usually develop until 3 – 6 hours after the chigger attaches itself. Walking through an infected area can give several chiggers the chance at feeding on you, and these critters can stay latched to the same spot for several days. What’s the kicker? You won’t even feel it latch onto you, and you most likely won’t feel it bite you. Only by the itching that occurs much later, and by the red bumps that are left on your skin, could determine that you were bitten by a chigger.

            So was the case for me. As with most schools in an urban school district, not much landscaping or even simple lawn care is done during the summer. Most, if not all, district employees are out on vacation along with the students. So, depending on how well the school is financially endowed, the practice fields take the brunt of the heat and are left in disastrous conditions. Tall grass would stand seemingly still until the feet of mine and my teammates ran through them, leaving clouds of dirt and sand that would fly right into our eyes. Repeatedly running through this grass, grass that seemed like any other kind of grass – albeit, just really, really dry – attracted a certain itch every day after football practice. I would take my socks off and run my fingernails all over my shins and ankles; I would make sure to dig deep into my skin. The itch was unbearable! Tiny red bumps would appear all over the lower portions of my legs. I’d spend the evenings after practice scratching away with whatever household item I could find. Combs, wire hangers, bottle caps – ANYTHING that would help me scratch me harder. The continuous biting from these critters, coupled with how often and how intense I was scratching away, resulted in my left leg going almost hairless. If you saw my legs while I was wearing shorts with very short socks, you’d quickly assume I was intentionally shaving my left leg while leaving the other alone. I didn’t know what I was coming into contact with, but it intimidated me enough to wear sweat pants to football practice; in the middle of July, during 100-degree weather. Welcome to the jungle indeed.

            Years later, and several leg hairs grown back later, I realized what my sworn enemy was. Chiggers. Yes, during that infamous summer, I never found out what I was getting bit by. My mother had decided it was coming from the practice field. My legs bathed in hydrocortisone cream for the rest of that summer. It wasn’t until other residents in my hometown began to experience the same thing that I did, that I found out what had been going on. This summer, all over North Texas, our communities have been suffering from the worst chigger infestation in almost 30 years. According to Texas A&M AgriLife, experts say this year is the worst for chiggers. Dr. Mike Merchant with the AgriLife Center in Dallas said the warm temperatures and high humidity of June are a likely reason for this year’s chigger population explosion. Chiggers are here to stay until the colder temperatures arise and force them back into hibernation. But trust me, they won’t go away forever. As we experience such a phenomenon, we want to protect ourselves from these mites. Yes, chiggers are relatively small and do not spread diseases, but their bites do cause some of the most intense itching you’ll want to feel. Protect yourself, your family, and your pets from chiggers. Protect them by calling EcoSafe, the only pest-control company with an eco-conscience.