Saturday, June 27, 2009

Well, I'll be chiggered

I'd heard about chiggers. I'd heard they were some kind of biting insect that likes to hang out in blackberry bushes and rough patches of grass, and attack people who live in places like North Carolina and Mississippi. I'd never really thought about how big they were, although "chigger" sounds like a chunky sort of word.
Then I came to realise they must be quite small, giving rise to the expression "she could see a chigger on a blackberry", to describe someone who was very observant.
I'd never seen one myself, however, until the other day, when I discovered that what I thought was some kind of exotic critter from the southern USA could be found right here in the UK too. And it was biting my leg.
In the UK they are known as harvest mites (their Sunday name is Trombicula autumnalis). They're pretty much the same deal as their American cousins - tiny little orangey-red things that look a bit like spider mites. The bite looks a bit like a mosquito bite, but tends to subside to a small red lump rather than a huge swelling - well, on me, anyway. (It's a well-known fact in our family that if anything can bite or sting, it will crawl, hop or fly straight towards me). You're not supposed to be able to feel them bite you, you only know when the bite starts to itch.
However, I've discovered this is not necessarily so. How do I know I was bitten by a chigger? Because I felt a kind of pinprick on my leg and looked down to see an orange dot racing away with a guilty expression on its face.
I must say, I think chigger is a much better word for them than harvest mite. Harvest mite sounds somehow cute and cuddly, like harvest mice. Chigger has connotations of mischief, as in "the little chigger just bit me". But I wish they'd chigger off and leave me alone.