Things that bite: ticks and chiggers

Since they crawl on your skin and attach themselves to you to feed, ticks and chiggers are especially creepy. Unlike mosquitoes, you can’t just swat them away. Here’s the difference between them.

The Lone Star tick, one of five tick species in Florida (IFAS/University of Florida)

The Lone Star tick, one of five tick species in Florida (IFAS/University of Florida)

Ticks carry some of the nastiest insect-borne diseases you can contract, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease.

There are five species of ticks in Florida. Ticks can be picked up in the woods any time of year, in any habitat, but there are more adult ticks around during the summer months in Florida.

In addition to bug spray, the best defense against ticks is wearing light-colored long sleeves and long pants so you can pick the ticks off you when you see them. Use gaiters or tuck your pants in your socks and spray repellant heavily around your ankles. Don’t wear open-toed shoes and sandals in the woods.

Removing ticks before they attach to your skin is critical. Always do a tick check after returning from a hike. We toss our hiking clothes directly into the washer and head for the shower immediately after most hikes. Ticks usually take some time before they attach themselves to you. To remove a tick, IFAS recommends “grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible using tweezers or forceps and pull straight back. Do not grab the abdomen of the tick since this injects the gut contents into the host!”

More about Florida’s ticks
Download the CDC guide to tick-borne diseases

Chiggers – which are a type of mite – don’t carry disease, but they sure can make you miserable. Their larvae are hardly visible. When you brush against grass or a bush along the footpath, they swarm all over you, looking for a place to feed, usually where clothing is tight against your skin. They tend to go for socks and ankles first.

Since you can’t see them, you’re unaware of the attack until they inject you with a liquid that dissolves your skin, and after they feed on you, they leave the feeder tubes behind. These make you itch like mad. The only good preventative against chiggers is insect repellant on your skin. Old-timers swear by a dusting of sulfur powder (available through compounding pharmacists) on your socks, but DEET will do the trick.

More about chiggers


  1. chris says

    After all the tick bites I’ve had over the years from all over the country, a quick walk at a local dog park a few weeks ago and a missed tick picked up there and guess what, the first case of Spotted Tick Fever in SC this year. We only had 10 last year. Believe me, you do not want to get this. Never been in so much pain in my life, it seems to have settled in my knees and ankles and I cant walk without lots of pain meds and help. Fever stays at 101/102 most of the time but will climb to 104 if I don’t take TYLENOL every few hours . But I have lost 15 lbs so there’s that. Looks like I’m out of service for the foreseeable future so keep up the postings please. And check twice for the little blood suckers.

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