Our trips to the homestead can be brutal in the late summer months. It never fails that I get eaten up by what I have called chiggers for many years. However the locals, all say the same thing, likely I was bitten by turkey mites. In all the places I have lived, I had never heard of turkeys mites and really thought that it was just local terminology. However, I’ve reached the point where I need to know, what exactly finds me so irresistible and how can I fight back! Chiggers versus turkey mites, what is the difference?
What are Chiggers?
Technically chiggers are not insects at all but are arachnids, in the same family as spiders and ticks. They are better known as mites. While chiggers prefer tall grass-like fields and wooded areas they can also be found in your yard. They are most active in the warmer months of the year when temperatures reach 77 to 86 degrees. Fortunately, the chigger larvae die as temperatures drop below 42 degrees.
Adult chiggers are extremely tiny, only about 1/60th of an inch in size. Adult chiggers are not dangerous to humans, it is the larvae that cause such irritation. The larvae are even more tiny, only about 1/150th of an inch. They are practically invisible to the naked eye, however since they are typically clustered in large numbers, they may appear as a tiny red dot on the skin.
Chiggers prefer brushy and grassy areas that stay moist during the day. The larvae can’t fly, so they remain clustered together waiting for passing hosts. The larvae are strictly parasitic, seeking hosts where they can feed.
How Do Chiggers Bite?
Once chiggers attach to a host, they seek exposed skin areas. Often the mite bites will be in places where clothing fits tightly. They are most likely to be found around your ankles, lower legs, behind your knees, groin, and waist. Once they locate exposed skin, the chigger larvae pierce the skin and use digestive enzymes in their saliva to liquefy the exposed skin cells. They feed off the dissolved skin tissue. Once attached to a host, the chiggers can remain attached for several days while they feed.
Identifying a Chigger Bite
Within a few hours, the chigger bites will begin to itch. The intense itching can often keep you awake at night. The bites will become red welts or blisters. Often these bites will be in straight lines. I have to admit, I have not noticed the straight lines of bites, but I will certainly try to pay more attention. Thankfully chiggers don’t carry diseases, however, the secondary infections caused by scratching can cause problems.
What are Turkey Mites?
Entomologists agree that the villain known as a turkey mite is actually the larval form of Lone Star Ticks. Click to see a photo here. They are also known as seed ticks or turkey ticks. The best description I read was “they are similar to chiggers, except worse.” Deer are actually the most prominent host of the Lone Star ticks, however wild turkeys and other ground-feeding birds are also hosts to Lone Star Ticks. Turkeys are blamed for the more widespread distribution of the Lone Star Tick due to the increase of the turkey population over the last 50 years. Lone Star Ticks can be found all over the south, and the central United States.
Life Cycle of a Tick
Ticks have four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. Other than the egg stage, the remaining three stages of life depend on the ticks finding a parasitic host to survive. While some ticks prefer the same host for all stages, most find a different host for each stage of development. Ticks find their hosts as they can detect the breath, body odors, heat, and moisture of their hosts. Like chiggers, they like tall grasses and wooded areas. Ticks also can not fly or jump, but they wait in a position ready to attach to a host called questing. Ticks stand holding their front legs at the ready. When a host walk by, they are prepared to latch on. Lone star ticks are aggressive ticks and will host on humans at all three stages of development.
How Do Ticks Bite?
Once a lone star tick larva or turkey mite finds a host, it cut the skin and inserts its feeding tube. The feeding tube of ticks has barbs that help them attach to the host. Ticks in all stages of development suck blood from their host. It’s during this feeding time that the host can be exposed to the spread of diseases.
Some sources indicated that the larvae stage of ticks doesn’t typically spread tick-borne infections as it is the first stage of feeding and likely the ticks have not encountered diseases from other hosts. However other sources indicate that there is evidence of transmission of Rocky Mountain fever and other diseases at even the larvae stage of development. Anyone exposed to tick bites, should be mindful of signs of infection. Thankfully, Lone Start ticks are not carriers of Lyme disease.
Identifying Turkey Mite Bites
Unfortunately, turkey mite bites look very similar to chigger bites. Turkey mites create red, rash-like bites. These small bumps become inflamed, swollen, and may blister. Itchy outbreaks can occur all over the body. The one constant difference between the two types of bites is that the severe itching is much more severe with turkey mites than with chiggers. The symptoms can last up to three weeks.
Prevention: Chiggers Versus Turkey Mites
As with any bug bite, prevention is the best course of action. I will admit, that I have not practiced good prevention when it comes to turkey mites. Most sources indicate that insect repellents containing 20% DEET are an effective treatment to prevent tick bites. While I know that may be effective, I am not a fan of spraying poison on my skin on a daily basis. However, since Kentucky will soon be our permanent home, I need to come up with a plan of how to prevent insect bites.
My Proven Tick and Turkey Mite Defensive Strategy
After years of being ravaged by turkey mites I was determined to find a way to protect myself. I have created two essential oil blends to create the Ultimate Tick Repelling Soap! Used alone and in combination with my threefold defensive strategy I have finally experienced my first year free from the agony of turkey mite bites!
Tuck it in!
To prevent exposed skin, always wear long pants in areas prone to ticks. Many experts suggest tucking your pants into your socks or boots to minimize the exposure to the lower legs.
Roll Ticks Away
Recently on Instagram, Ann of all Trades, shared a cool tick hack that I heard for the first time. After hiking or walking through areas likely to include ticks, go over your clothes with a lint roller. Ticks that are still crawling on your clothes can be removed before they make their way to a person’s skin. This works for animals too. Be sure to roll down your dog to find any loose ticks before you let the dog in your home.
Years ago, my family used to backpack in Alaska. For mosquito bite prevention, I treated our clothing with permethrin. I have to admit, I had completely forgotten about this treatment method. Soaking clothes in permethrin creates a long-lasting shield against tiny ticks. Treatments are long-lasting and can hold up multiple washings.
Concentrated forms of permethrin need to be diluted to the recommended 0.5% strength solution recommended for treating fabrics. Once diluted, soak clothes in the solution for several hours, allowing the items of clothing to become completely saturated with the permethrin solution. Clothing can be soaked in batches in buckets or individual items in a plastic bag. Hang clothes to dry. Once dry, wear as usual. The good news is that the treated clothing will be effective in repelling insects for up to six weeks, or six washings! Don’t forget to treat your boots as well!
While I realize that permethrin is a poisonous chemical, I personally feel this method is a safer method than spraying poison directly on my skin and clothes on a regular basis. When treating clothes with permethrin, take all necessary precautions, wear gloves, work outside, be mindful of treatment materials and dispose of them safely.
How to Treat Affected Areas
While prevention is always best, what do you do if you find yourself in the same predicament as me? The itching starts as a simple irritation, but progresses to an intense itching that makes you want to rip your own skin off! Please be aware, we are not healthcare professionals, the information provided is for informational purposes only. When seeking medical advice, please contact your healthcare provider.
Shower Soon After Exposure
After exposing yourself to turkey mites, it is best to shower with hot water and scrub affected areas. If you find any attached ticks, use tweezers or a tick removal tool to grasp the head of the tick as close to your skin as possible and remove it. Some sources recommend soaking in a bath with 1/2 cup of bleach for at least 15 minutes.
My friend, Angela Magney owner of Magney Legacy Ridge Farm and fellow Kentuckian, messaged me right away when I shared my agony. She said that her family uses the cheap Walmart brand lice shampoo. I used this for the first time this year, I actually found this lotion to be very soothing. However, I think it’s best used after initial exposure to prevent the turkey mites from attaching. Lice treatment spray is a topical permethrin-based spray that is safe for your skin. My case was far too advanced for this to be effective.
Treating the Itch: Chiggers versus Turkey Mites
In my experience, calamine lotion is not effective in treating turkey mites. In recent years, I have used a triple approach. This is what I have done personally, please seek professional medical attention if needed. I first wipe down the affected skin with isopropyl alcohol. While this burns, it does help prevent infection. Try as I might, I can’t help but scratch.
Next, I apply Tecnu Calagel Anti Itch Gel and I also spray with a topical analgesic Tecnu Rash Relief Spray. Yes, I use both, desperate times call for desperate measures. This combination seems to be the best at keeping the itching at bay, however, I haven’t found anything that makes it completely stop. The itching can last for weeks after exposure.
Return of Cold Weather Brings Relief
Both chiggers and turkey mites flourish in the high heat of spring, late summer, and fall. The return of cold weather will kill off the chiggers at temperatures lower than 42 degrees. While the lone star ticks will become inactive in fall and winter, the temperature needs to be below 10 degrees for several days to kill the adult population. During this time period of inactivity, we can enjoy a slight respite from turkey mites. Personally, I look forward to the cooler months when I can enjoy the homestead without having to worry about being exposed to turkey mites. Until then, I will need to be vigilant to evade this nearly invisible nemesis.
Ultimate Tick Repelling Soap
Get the recipe to make your own Tick Repelling Soap proven to repel ticks and turkey mites!
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.