Certain things are inherently evil.

Adolf Hitler, Snidely Whiplash, Wile E. Coyote, the designated hitter and bleu cheese come to mind.

Chiggers, the insidious, invisible insects, fit quite comfortably in that group.

Growing up on a farm, chiggers were a given in the summer. If you didn’t get a serious case of chiggers in May or June, they were a certainty in July when the blackberries ripened.

When the blackberries came ripe, my brothers and me would be handed gallon buckets. It was a bittersweet moment. Blackberry time meant pie and fresh jelly — nothing in this world is better than a steaming hot piece of homemade bread slathered with a thick layer of blackberry jelly.

On the other hand, nothing could prevent the inevitable chigger outbreak. Not long pants, not insecticide, not prayer.

It was simply a fact of life, pick blackberries, and then scratch like a dog with fleas for a week.

The “cure” in those days was to paint the chigger bites with nail polish. And, of course, the “cure” was worse than the disease. The bites were normally scratched open by the time the nail polish was applied. My eyes still water thinking about that stinging sensation.

Now, of course, we know that once the welt appears the chiggers are already dead. Nothing but time and sharp fingernails can “cure” chiggers.

As you might have already guessed, I am currently suffering from the chigger malady. My best guess is I encountered the chiggers at SIU’s Campus Lake. And, I spent most of my time on the asphalt paths. I veered off the path only momentarily to snap photos of turtles lounging in the sun.

Fortunately, the current infestation stopped at the knees.

Still, they are driving me crazy. And, sadly, there is no blackberry pie or jelly in my future.

I have to admit, I’m catching some funny looks at work. I discard my shoes and rub my sock-clad feet against the carpet in a desperate attempt to get some relief.

Uncomfortable as it is, this infestation is relatively mild.

Amazingly, my worst encounter with chiggers was the result of a Labor Day squirrel hunting trip. We hunted in a mature oak-hickory forest all morning, rarely encountering any live vegetation. However, the hike from the pickup truck to the woods involved a grassy quarter-mile path.

As a result, I never suspected a chigger infestation.

I returned home after the hunt, showered and prepared for a Labor Day barbecue. All seemed right with the world when I went to bed that night.

However, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling as if my skin was crawling off my body. I bolted to the bathroom, turned on the light and was horrified at what I saw. My body was actually disfigured. When I regained my sanity I counted 85 welts.

The experience tested my sanity. Some might say it robbed me of it.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, or call 618-351-5088.


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