Early to mid-summer is the time of year that chiggers and fleas thrive. Fleas can live in the yard if you or your neighbor has dogs in the yard.
Adult fleas are no larger than 1/8 inch long, so they can be difficult to find. One method for determining if your yard is infested is to lay down a white sheet or poster board and walk around the edges. The fleas will be disturbed as you walk on them, and they will jump onto the white surface where they are more readily seen.
Fleas are wingless insects (1/16 to 1/8-inch long) that are agile, usually dark colored with tube-like mouth-parts adapted to feeding on the blood of their hosts. Their legs are long, the hind pair well adapted for jumping: a flea can jump vertically up to 7 inches and horizontally up to 13 inches, making the flea one of the best jumpers of all known animals (relative to body size).
Flea bites generally cause the formation of a slightly raised, swollen itching spot with a single puncture point at the center. The bites often appear in clusters or lines of two or more bites, and can remain itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks afterwards.
Chiggers most commonly live in forests, grassy fields, gardens, parks, and in moist areas around lakes or rivers. Most of the larvae that cause chigger bites are found on plants that are relatively close to the ground surface, because they require a high level of humidity for survival.
They are red in color but are barely visible to the naked eye (their length is less than 1/150th of an inch). Chigger mites infest human skin via areas of contact with vegetation, such as ankles, shoes, pant cuffs or shirt sleeves and collars. They migrate on the skin in search of an optimal feeding area. Most bites occur around the ankles, the crotch and groin areas, behind the knees, and in the armpits.
As you can see, chiggers are tiny!
This is a close-up of a chigger on a dime.
A chigger bite itself is not noticeable. Whereas it is the adult flea that feeds on mammals, it is the tiny larva of chiggers that causes the problem. After the chigger has begun to inject digestive enzymes into the skin (usually after about 1-24 hours), symptoms typically begin. Pronounced itching is the most common symptom. The area of the bite may be reddened, flat, or raised; sometimes it resembles a pustule or blister. The itch usually is most intense within 1-2 days after the bite. The itching persists for several days, and complete resolution of the skin lesions can take up to two weeks.
Control and prevention measures are similar for those listed for mosquitos, which can be found on our blog post about Mosquito Control. Spraying your yard will not help prevent fleas and chiggers, but it is possible to apply insect-control granules with a fertilizer spreader if your yard is infested. Spraying skin and clothing with DEET and permethrin will keep fleas and chiggers away from you and your children.