Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Life of a Chigger

If you look up chiggers on Wikipedia, you find some great scientific information, which I always have a hard time processing the first three or four times through. But the basic thing about chiggers, according to the truth, is that they're only parasitical in the larvae state. The rest of the time they're content to leave you alone and simply eat normal food. So it's that larvae state you want to avoid.

What must it be like to be a larvae state chigger? I really think they have to be more or less unconscious of what's going on. Like us, when we were in the larvae state. I don't personally remember a thing about it. But we're a little different in that our mothers didn't lay us prematurely in the lawn. We had the peace and safety of an inner sanctum.

The nascent chigger, on the other hand, is simply in the grass. It has no plans, no outlook. All it has -- and this is major -- is the beneficence of existence, that takes care of every little thing. Which I'll take comfort in the next time I'm short on money and long on bills. The chigger larvae is simply there and needs a meal, which is going to be your dead skin cells.

It seems obvious to me that they're extremely small and could hardly foresee a person coming by, at least with enough clarity to make a conscious jump from the grass to the ankle. If they make a conscious jump, that's awesome. But more likely they're just swept up in someone passing. Although that brings up the interesting question of what good insect repellant does, since they'd already be along for the ride.

OK, they're on your ankle. No thoughts, no plans of being there, but now they must do what comes next. Which is to feed. Because they want to make it from the larvae state to the point where they can be full grown and a parent on their own. This seems like quite a journey, where a million things could and would go wrong. But there's safety in numbers and in incredibly small size, because enough of them are going to make it through to create a nuisance again next year.

Once on you, it's time to feast on dead skin. They make some sort of little suck hole, feed on you, then at some point fall off, where they develop further, become adults, etc., and the cycle picks up again next time. They're gone, let's say, and you continue to itch. All you can do is scratch, or get some of the itch stuff -- Chigger Rid, etc., -- which may or may not help. I've been getting them on my legs for a few years, and now my wrist. It's a bastard, but that's life. Fortunately, I'm learning all the time how to fight them.

I've traced back some of my problems from three summers ago -- when this problem became so bad for me -- to wearing the same pants forever. I thought it was a cool thing, and I hear there's some young people who do the same thing. I thought, "Why do laundry?" But now, after long, terrible experience, I've learned it's better to go through the pain of frequent laundry than to lie awake at night with unrestrained itching up and down my legs! I recommend you do the same...

The doc said these chiggers -- she probably meant the larvae -- can keep living in your pants. So you're picking them up and putting them on daily. And how many dead skin cells would there have to be in a pair of pants that you've been wearing for three weeks? Enough for chigger Thanksgiving and every other feast. Then you put the pants on and they're on you again. You're helping grow the biggest larvae in the world. Terrible.

So, it's something to think about. Even though I hate chiggers with a purple passion -- and I actually might go out and burn the grass on my half acre, if the wind dies down and the county lifts the no-burn order -- I have to sort of begrudgingly admire their precarious life cycle. It's very dicey what we go through to exist. Chigger larvae have to be like meteors colliding in space all day, everyday. It's a battle.

For me, no doubt many chiggers have ended up drowned in the laundry. Or spun to death on the side of the washer. And that's how it's going to be from now on. Once I learn of something -- in this case the life of chiggers -- I'm not likely to go back to my old ways. The new ways are always best.

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