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Summertime and the livin' is itchy

At last night's weblogger meetup the conversation was about itchy and annoying topics like mosquitoes, chiggers and Movable Type licensing policy.

Chiggers, for those of you fortunate enough not to know, are microscopic bugs which may be even worse than mosquitoes in making life miserable in the summer months here in Texas, at least for people who leave the pavement for the woods and tall grass. Instead of flying and biting, chiggers crawl onto your body and make itchy bumps wherever your clothes are tight, especially the waist, crotch and armpits. Imagine mosquito bites on your tender bits and you'll get the idea.

Chris said something about chiggers which, alas, I feel compelled to debunk. Here's Iowa State on chiggers:

Contrary to popular opinion, chiggers do not burrow into the skin nor do they feed on blood. Instead, chiggers inject a digestive fluid containing enzymes that cause skin cells to rupture. The fluids from the skin cells are then consumed as food. The injected enzymes cause the skin to become red, swollen and itchy. The itch may last for several days and will persist even after the chigger has detached from the skin.

So much for the remedy I was taught as a child, to cover the spot with Elmer's glue and smother the chigger.

Iowa State is silent about Chris's suggestion for the prevention of chigger and mosquito bites: brewer's yeast milkshakes for a vitamin B boost. I wonder how that's supposed to work -- could you put vitamin B in a spray and use it topically, or is it less about repelling bugs than making your body produce less of whatever attracts them? This is a pressing topic for me right now, as Inside Books is one of the most mosquito-infested places I've been lately despite the Rhizome Collective's claimed interest in biological pest control. I used to believe in citronella and lemongrass as mosquito repellants but now I think they're just placebos.

P.S. I'm tempted to repeat as a sociolinguistic curiosity a racist pun about chiggers that was common in my elementary school. It's not quite as bad as you're probably thinking but almost. If you must know what it is, ask me privately -- there are some things I just won't say in earshot of Google.

garden 2004.05.20 link


I'm glad to learn that that chiggers do not, in fact, burrow under your skin and raise a family, as if it were some 3/2 Southwest-style ranch. However, the suggestion that "chiggers inject a digestive fluid containing enzymes that cause skin cells to rupture. The fluids from the skin cells are then consumed as food," is still pretty nasty and terrifying. Regarding brewer's yeast, smoothie culture was still in an embryonic state when I was a Boy Scout, so we just took brewer's yeast tablets. If we were going on a weeklong campout, we would start taking tablets a few days before camping and keep taking the tablets until camp was over. The summers I spent a lot of time outdoors camping and doing landscape work, I would take brewer's yeast all summer. My evidence is only anecdotal of course, but it seemed to be effective, and this page from NC State also mentions brewer's yeast as a folk remedy.

While we're on the subject of folk remedies, last spring as I was suffering from some nasty allergies, an adminstrative staffer in the department recommended a Chromium-based nasal spray called NasalCrom. Its surprisingly effective for short-term relief of allergy-induced itchiness. But this spring my allergies have not been nearly as severe. Reflecting on this, I remembered I take B-Complex and Chromium Picolinate supplements each morning to improve my metabolism. I wonder if Chromium, taken orally has any effect on allergy symptoms.

Chris [chris cxe infobong punkto com] • 2004.05.20
In Nova Scotia this is the tic season. They latch onto you in the woods and crawl about for a while until they bore into your skin and drink your blood. I had never come across these creatures until I moved here.

Last week I had a medium sized spider on my leg which I flicked off. Yesterday one of my neighbors picked a tic off her dog and showed me. It was exactly the same as that 'spider' on my leg last week...

Andrew [ariddles cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2004.05.21
Yow! I had my first night run-in with a prickly pear, outran a havalina (javalina?) - now this!

Yeah, so far I'm finding Texas to be the scariest place I've been to so far.

Jeremy [JeremyATbetacorpoDOTnet] • 2004.05.21
Just to play free association, I think there's an alternative newspaper with ties to the Rhizome Collective called The Javelina.

One time in high school my friend Eric and I were stranded in Shawnee, Oklahoma looking for the mall. (OK, we were on a class trip at Oklahoma Baptist University's "German Fest" competition.) Anyway we were wandering around tired and hungry through a field, when I spotted a prickly pear. I was all, "Hey man, you can eat these!" I grabbed a lobe, took a big bite, and suddenly realized that you have to take out the spines first. I had prickly pear pricklies embedded all over my tongue and lips and it was not a pleasant experience, but I recovered quickly enough.

chris [chris cxe infobong punkto com] • 2004.05.22
That's an amazing story, Chris. Didn't you ever watch Roadrunner cartoons when you were a kid? :-)

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.05.22
I must not have watched them enough because I feel like I'm missing a reference. Was there a running gag where Wile E. Coyote snacked on prickly pears?

Chris [chris cxe infobong punkto com] • 2004.05.22
No, I don't know of a specific episode -- are there Roadrunner episode geeks like there are for Simpsons and Star Trek? -- but I think the show burned the general idea "cactus has spines" into my preschool brain pretty well.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.05.22
OK, OK, I get it now - the story sounds too stupid to be true. After thinking about it, I think what I did was pull off the obviously large spines from the cactus, not realizing that there are also tiny, nearly invisible spines, which are what got me in the end. I was such a goofy kid, tho, I would have been all excited and not exercizing common sense when i did something like that.

On a band trip, a friend had gotten an overripe apple for our dinner picnic, and cut a face in it to look like our band director. Calling it "Bob the Apple," we chanted at it and abused it, taking out some of our resentment toward our fearless leader. I took a pencil and started stabbing it, getting a little too excited and went into a fury pounding the apple into a sticky pulp. After I returned to reality, I realized that I had jammed the graphite core of the pencil pretty deeply into my hand, which also hurt. I did a lot of dumb, painful stuff as a teen.

chris [chris cxe infobong punkto com] • 2004.05.23
We are very disappointed that we lie outside of cicada country, although we hear the best restaurants are trucking them in from down South to make frittatas and the like. In the SoCal deserts where I hung out with my grandpappy growing up we had "no-see-'ems" but they just swarmed in your eyes, no burrowing and bloodlust. But we are happy to report that we finally have an apartment where the justly famed New York City mutant cockroach makes an occasional appearance a la Joe's Apartment. We're told this will subside once the other apts are fumigated, but having lived here for 7 years, I feel that I have finally completed my list of NYC bona fides ... except for experiencing a BFR (rattus norvegicus), which I can do without, except for purposes of betting in the subways.

colin [cbrayton cxe blogalization punkto nu] • 2004.05.24
I am going nuts and was wondering if anyone can help me.
I got a new kitten from what i could call a fairly unsanitary house. within hours i had bites on me....50-70 by the next day. I SAW the things doing this to me on my new kitten.....they LOOK like fleas but they move like very tiny spiders, fluid motions. I took the kitten and a specimen of the bug to the vet, they told me it was biting lice, heres some advantage multi, happily ever after. But no. The advantage seems to have killed not one of these things and now i have 150 bites on me. They're NOT scabies because i saw the bug in the microscope (no it doesnt look like lice, either from what i've seen) and they're not on my wrists or between my fingers. I'm wondering if my kitten could have been infested with chiggers.....and if chiggers even are as far north as Nova scotia. I KNOW they're not tics, Ive dealt with that here before! and headlice. AND bedbugs. I'm at the end of my rope, if you can help please contact me. thankyou.

Heather Macmichael [Heather cxe putitoncd punkto com] • 2007.03.14
Heather, chiggers live on grass, not on kittens.

I don't know what you've got there. I do know there are varieties of mites which can live on cats. I'd say go back to the vet. Also ask whether there's an insecticidal shampoo which is safe for kittens. Good luck!

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.15
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