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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Biting Mites Return To Illinois' Outdoors

Peoria Public Radio

The weather's been warming up, and that means it's chigger season again in Illinois.

Chiggers are tiny mites that live in grass and shrubs. They're nearly impossible to see, but their bites leave rash-like bumps that can keep some people itching for weeks.

University of Arkansas biologist Ashley Dowling says there are a lot of myths about chiggers. He says they do not suck blood like mosquitoes.

"They definitely do not burrow into our skin,” Dowling said. “They just pierce the outer layer. And typically, as soon as you start itching, the chigger isn't even there anymore, because they're so small that if we scratch it, if we brush up against something, it tends to dislodge the chigger."

Our skin reacts by forming a hard tube -- called a stylostome -- that the chiggers use like a straw to suck up more skin cells.

"And they secrete a saliva which is full of enzymes in it,” Dowling said. “And those enzymes ... dissolve the skin cells inside there. And then they're basically drinking those dissolved skin cells."

The itching is a reaction to that irritating tube and the enzymes.

Dowling says by the time you start to itch, the chiggers are probably long gone. He says if you think you've been bitten, the best thing to do is wash or wipe off your skin as soon as possible.