Blackberries and the invasion of the flesh suckers

Blackberries are in season in Tennessee: abundant clusters of sweet globules filled with flavor. Seed catalogues offer several variety of blackberries, but they grow wild in so many places in Tennessee that you don’t have to cultivate them. Just find a patch and pick. My cousins and I used to pick buckets of blackberries with my grandmother, and I did so recently on the Garden Inn property in Monterey and on the shores of Norris Lake.

That’s where the chiggers attacked.

Chiggers are six-legged tormentors so small that they cannot be seen. They climb onto people and march to places where clothing is tight and skin is soft. That’s right–backs of knees, under the arms, and the nether regions. Once in place chiggers find a hair follicle or pore and settle down for a meal. What they do next is best described by an Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet:

“They pierce the skin and inject into the host a salivary secretion containing powerful, digestive enzymes that break down skin cells that are ingested (tissues become liquefied and sucked up). Also, this digestive fluid causes surrounding tissues to harden, forming a straw-like feeding tube of hardened flesh (stylostome) from which further, partially-digested skin cells may be sucked out. After a larva is fully fed in four days, it drops from the host, leaving a red welt with a white, hard central area on the skin that itches severely and may later develop into dermatitis. Any welts, swelling, itching, or fever will usually develop three to six hours after exposure and may continue a week or longer. If nothing is done to relieve itching, symptoms may continue a week or more. Scratching a bite may break the skin, resulting in secondary infections. However, chiggers are not known to transmit any disease in this country.”


Illustration from Ohio State University

What the fact sheet does not say is that chiggers are pure hell. My remedy is nail polish and epic levels of self control. The former, painted onto the red bumps, asphyxiates the little devils, and the latter is all you can do to minimize the itching.

One friend, driven to near madness by a particularly bad infestation in what I shall call the Speedo zone, said he considered shaving half of the afflicted area, setting fire to the other half, and stabbing the chiggers with an ice pick as they came running out of the fire.

My father once described a guy with a case of chiggers “that was so bad he was two weeks behind on the scratching.”

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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