Tallgrass prairies are particularly rich in chiggers and ticks. Photo by Stalin SM. 

June 13, 2024

They’re lurking out there — silent, sneaky and mostly invisible. Our tiny nemeses in nature whose size belies the pain they produce. The bugs of summer are ready to make you miserable: chiggers and ticks. But there are ways to thwart them. Read on! 

Both lurk on the ends of grass blades, the tips of shrubs and saplings and especially on the edges of forests, creeks and trails — wherever there’s a good chance of a victim, er host, passing by. Chiggers and ticks locate hosts through vibrations, exhalation, aromas and other stimuli. Mammals, birds, reptiles, rodents — they bite them all. 

The distribution of chiggers and ticks is uneven and one person might get bit while someone a foot away doesn’t. Sometimes you chance across a large concentration soon after they emerge from eggs. The unwary get swarmed with seed ticks and a multitude of bites can ensure. Horrifying! 

Chigger mite infestation of an ornate box turtle. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University. Courtesy of Bugwood.org. 


Chiggers, which are too small to be seen on skin or clothing, are the larvae of certain mites who as adults are harmless insect easters. The Eutrombicula alfreddugesi chigger inhabits upland areas, while Eutrombicula splendens prefers it moist.

Chigger mite. Photo by Hansell F. Cross, Georgia State University. Courtesy of Bugwood.org.

But wow, the damage these minute mite larvae can do. Needle-like chigger mouthparts sink into the skin and inject a necrotizing compound that disintegrates skin cells. The chigger forms a straw and sucks up your dying skin goo like a smoothie. Dying skin cells are very itchy business, hence the bite misery.

Once upon your body, chiggers and ticks can explore for hours, looking for the perfect spot to do their deed. Especially chiggers, which are so teeny they need areas gently abraded by tight clothing like waistbands, socks or the backs of knees in order to pierce the skin. Or they can attack thin skin like the genitals or inner arm. 

Tip #1: Hike naked. Fewer places for chiggers to attach. Just kidding.


The two most common species found in North Texas are Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma Americanum) and black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also called deer ticks.

Black-legged ticks. Photo by Mat Pound, USDA Agricultural Research Service. Courtesy of Bugwood.org. 

After hatching, a tick goes through up to three stages — six-legged larva or “seed ticks,”eight-legged nymph and adult — which can take up to three years. Each stage can utilize a different host, but ticks find humans suitable for all of them. 

Lone star tick. Photo by Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS PPQ. Courtesy of Bugwood.org. 

Males can mate with more than one female and expire soon after. After mating, female ticks pierce the skin with seriously barbed mouthparts and anchor themselves, then release a substance that cements them into the skin. Once secure, they suck the host’s blood to feed their progeny. Afterward, the female drops to the ground, produces thousands of eggs and dies. 

Lone star tick. Photo by Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS PPQ. Courtesy of Bugwood.org. 

The Tick App for Texas and the Southern Region developed by Texas A&M is excellent and is a free download. The website is also helpful. Both cover tick identification, biology, bite prevention and protection and removal, as well as invasive ticks — who knew! 


Dressing right can avoid a lot of bite misery. Choose long, loose-fitting pants and a long-sleeved overshirt (which also helps deflect mosquitos) in light colors. Tightly woven fabrics that have a twill or satin weave structure — such as chino or denim compared to jersey or knits — are more difficult for ticks and chiggers to penetrate. 

Wear as tall a boot as is comfortable and tuck pants legs inside boots. Tall galoshes are perfect, often sold as hunter gear. Some wear tall socks and tuck pants legs inside them, but choose a tightly woven fabric sock, not crew.

The wonder solution is tick bands or cuffs treated with permethrin and permethrin sprays for clothing. Tick bands and cuffs go around your ankles and wrists atop clothing. There are even tick belts and hats.

Tick bands and cuffs go around your ankles and wrists atop clothing. Tick belts and hats are also available. Photo by Amy Martin. 

Alternatively, you can douse your clothes and shoes with permethrin sprays. Do not apply permethrin to skin. Allow soaked clothes to dry before wearing and do not get wet while wearing them. Warning: Permethrin is highly poisonous to cats. Do not handle cats while wearing permethrin since they lack certain liver enzymes that break down permethrin into harmless forms.

Do not handle cats while wearing permethrin since they lack certain liver enzymes that break down permethrin into harmless forms.

But also apply repellent to skin to be safe. DEET sprays are recommended, but there are health misgivings about the chemical and it can permanently stain clothing that touches treated skin. Insect sprays based on the refined oil of lemon eucalyptus, such as the one by Repel, are rated as effective as DEET. Repellents’ effectiveness decreases after several hours, so reapply as needed.

Natural non-refined essential-oil products can potentially be effective if applied thoroughly and frequently. 

Tip #2: Avoid getting repellents around or in your eyes. Wash or wipe down hands after applying repellents. Keep pre-moistened wipes in your car or pack. 

Some swear by dusting sulfur, available in the nurseries and garden-products aisles of hardware stores, especially for chiggers. Fill a sock with the powder and slap it against skin and clothing to the point of being quite yellow. Be aware that sulfur on clothing can get rubbed off by foliage. Reapply often. Dusting sulfur can also be applied to lawns and gardens to decrease chiggers. 

Hikers in permethrin-treated clothing. Photo courtesy of InsectShield. 

Moving briskly can reduce bites, so try not to stop until in an open area. Not bathing before going outdoors ensures that your acid mantle, an invisible layer on your skin made of dead skill cells and secretions, is thick enough to slow down chiggers (and the urushiol of poison ivy/oak as well). Don’t sit on the ground or fallen logs. 

Tip #3: Stop often in open areas. Do this to brush off your outer clothing to dislodge hitchhikers and do tick checks on each other, especially the backside and head. 

After chigger and tick exposure, hustle back to your abode as soon as possible. 

• Shower with a strong flow of warm water and use a washcloth or sponge with lots of lather to wash all skin thoroughly. 

• Especially scrub around your groin, armpits, waistband and wherever clothes clung closely. 

• Wash your hair and use fingernails to scrape around for ticks.  

• Shake your clothes vigorously outside and launder promptly, using as hot water and drying settings as possible. 


Be aware three to six hours after exposure for the telltale itchiness from chigger bites. Rub bites vigorously with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to break down the necrotizing compound fully. 

Since the itch of chigger bites is from dying skin cells, the real cure for the itch is to encourage the skin to grow new ones. Skin emollients containing urea excel at this. Topical antihistamines and steroids do not and provide only temporary relief. Apply genuine witch hazel (not the kind watered down with alcohol) which tightens the skin surface and helps bites heal faster. 

Fun fact: By the time you feel the itch, the chigger is usually gone. Nail polish on a bite injects petrochemicals directly into the bloodstream and serves merely as a counterirritant. Be kind to your skin. 

For chigger itch relief, apply mildly strong acids like vinegar or lemon juice, or alkalines like magnesium creams, calamine or aspirin-free Milk of Magnesia. Strong tannin, like in a gently used black tea bag, can be effective. 

Simply Saline Rinse soothes skin and numbs painful bites. Photo by Amy Martin.

Sooth the skin with neutral pH like salt water or a cucumber mash. Soak a washrag in vinegar or salt water, place in a freezer for ten minutes, and apply for calming relief. A mineral-salt bathtub soak can be just the ticket for bites in personal areas. 

If the itch becomes painful, oral anti-inflammatories can give some relief. Topically, turn to products with numbing agents like lidocaine. Simply Saline Rinse by Arm & Hammer for wounds reduces pain while soothing skin. Apply antibiotic creams at the first sign of infection. 


Ticks try to locate on your body where they won’t get noticed. They have a knack for knowing where they can’t be scratched. 

If a tick bites you, remove it by grasping firmly with nitrile-gloved hands or dull tweezers as close to the skin as possible. If bare handed, wash very well afterward with antiseptic solutions. The goal is to see a piece of your skin in its mandibles. Place tick in a small zip baggie, close and place in freezer in case you need to identify it later. Hikers should always carry a tiny zip bag with them. 

Stay paranoid after exposure and even post showering for the creepy feeling of ticks scurrying around on your skin. They’ve been known to survive even vigorous showers and can mature on your body until large enough to bite. 

Lone Star Tick found in Fort Worth. Photo by Sam Kieschnick.Lone Star Tick found in Fort Worth. Photo by Sam Kieschnick.

Ticks can carry and transmit a variety of diseases. Though it is rare, ticks in North Texas have been known to transmit the very serious Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, as well as ehrlichiosis, tick-borne relapsing fever, and tularemia. 

An infected tick needs to remain attached for at least four hours to transmit a disease. Vigilance while outdoors is important. Each disease requires a unique treatment and antibiotic, much of which depends on the species of tick. Undergoing treatment for the wrong species of tick can have serious consequences. 

Not all tick bites carry diseases, but once the tick is removed the bite does tend to get infected, so clean with rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or antiseptics, and apply an antibiotic cream to all bites. 

Tick diseases usually manifest as a rash and not always at the bite location — on neck, wrists and ankles, for instance. There may be fever, chills, and muscle and joint aches. Urgent care facility physicians often have more experience with tick bite treatment. 


Now you are prepped and ready to enjoy nature pleasantly. A group of hikers recently took these precautions before exploring a tallgrass prairie, known for its world-class chiggers and ticks and few bites ensued. 

Keep exploring the outdoors and know that after freezes, these minute menaces are greatly reduced. 

Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. Please consult with a licensed physician for personal medical advice.


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