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The Umstead Coalition 
Celebrating Umstead State Park since 1934!

Red Bugs Build Character

06/23/2021 2:04 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

Red Bugs are actually arachnids (not “bugs”) and are called chiggers, harvest mites, spawns of Satan, as well as many other profanities.  Their closest relatives are ticks, so you know they come from a bad family.  Red bugs are the microscopic immature stages of some mite species that can leap onto any passing animal to dine.  They do not discriminate, feeding on humans, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and a host of other animals.  Pity the snakes who get them under the scales with no fingers to scratch with.

In my experience, they seem to like dampish areas with overgrown grass.  A long day exploring some of the grassy bluffs of the Congaree River in South Carolina resulted in what I thought was on a biblical plague level showing.  The only comfort I found was Romans 5: 3-4 that loosely says, “rejoice in your suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” 

Personally, I think everyone should have the “red bug experience” at least once in their life for their own edification and reflection.  My nephew Kyle was with me when he had his first crop.  He manfully embraced the itch and suffered whine-free.  However, he was scratching so much that I contemplated duct taping oven mitts on his hands.  

Once on the host, chiggers do not burrow under the skin as is commonly believed.  They simply inject digestive enzymes through a feeding tube that dissolves skin cells that they can slurp up.  These enzymes are what causes the itch, and this can last for days.  

Removing or dispatching the red bugs is as simple as rubbing your hand briskly over your body every 15 minutes or so.  Unfortunately, red bugs are inclined to feed in warm moist areas that would be socially unacceptable to rub briskly at almost any time. 

The itch can be ferocious, and I remember many nights having a 2:00 am scratch session that went on and on.  The raised welts look bad enough on white legs but combined with the self-inflicted panther- like scratches, it can be enough to cause a public spectacle. 

My grandmother Jennie had a preventative for red bugs which was to tie a turpentine-soaked piece of cotton around both ankles.   My cousin Mary and I became believers after a wood filled afternoon with no red bugs, but we found that the turpentine rag chafed our skin and burned after hours with it on.  So, you had to pick your poison. 

The army had an effective sulfur-based preventative called Chiggaway that worked perfectly.  That this was never seriously marketed for the public made it highly suspect to me.  Nowadays people just douse themselves in bug spray and for the most part, this works very well.  Staying on a trail works amazingly well also. 

A good thing to do when you get back from the woods is take a shower and wash with soap.  This will take care of the mites that are on you, but the damage will most likely have been done.  Your skin will harden where the feeding tube was inserted and will begin to itch.  Some people like Calamine lotion but I found it laughably ineffective.   Some people swear by oatmeal baths. 

I apply Icy Hot muscle rub  because it seems to counteract the itch somewhat.  The best thing, however, is to realize that this too shall pass, hopefully in a few days but up to a week, and at the blessed end, you will have gained a modicum of character and hope.   

Know more to see more,

Ranger Billy

The Umstead Coalition

We are a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the natural integrity of William B. Umstead State Park and the Richland Creek Corridor.


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