This old-timer was in the parking lot at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, in bib overalls and boots. He looked like the kind of guy who would know about chiggers.
Chiggers have been and are a concern of mine. They like many of the same places birds like.
Minnesota has chiggers, not that I've ever encountered them here. My agonies all have been in Texas, which I regard as Chigger Central.
Jude and I were in Texas for an American Birding Association convention. We had been afield, and now were at the refuge. I had such a severe case of chigger bites that the night before I had visited a hospital emergency room, begging for mercy. I got a shot and a prescription (and two weeks later the itching stopped).
Chiggers are mites, distantly related to spiders. All but invisible without a magnifying glass, chiggers lurk in tall grass and on brush. It is the chigger larvae that get you, sensing the carbon dioxide you exhale, then climbing aboard to seek a warm, soft place to bite.
Chiggers head for places on your body where the flesh is thin, tender or wrinkled. That pretty much describes too many of us. Chiggers like the skin beneath your socks, waistbands and underwear. Chiggers in a rush will bite your ankles and calves.
The larvae inject you with their saliva, which dissolves some of your skin. The chigger then sucks up skin cells. A red welt appears. The U.S. Army chigger website (yup, there's an Army Web page on chiggers) says the welt itches intensely. That is an understatement.
The fellow in the parking lot said, indeed, he had a solution for chiggers.
"You get yourself some powdered sulfur, and a jar of Vaseline. Mix 'em up, and smear it on the lower half of your body," he said.
Sounded extreme then. Still does.
A hot shower or bath, heavy on lather, is one way to get rid of chiggers, assuming you do it soon after exposure. On a birding trip that will go until sundown, hot showers are a distant wish. Treating clothes with Permethrin spray helps, as do potions and lotions and bug spray.
Friend Clay Christensen, the Birdman of Lauderdale, asked me recently if I got into chiggers when in Costa Rica earlier this year. Nope, I said. I pretty much stayed on manmade surfaces.
Christensen's story comes from Costa Rica. His tour group visited a national park on a weekend.
"The park was quite full with families enjoying the day," he told me. "The folks all seemed friendly, nodding and smiling as we walked in with our binoculars and cameras hung 'round our necks.
"I noticed that many families had brought mattresses to sit on. Other folks were sitting on their picnic coolers. We sat in the grass or on the beach. That night, I found out why the locals weren't sitting in the grass," he said.
Christensen told me he could still see bite scars two months later.
Mosquitos are bad, but we're used to those. Ditto black and deer flies. Deer ticks are worse, for sure. Some years ago a tick gave me a disease called erlichiosis. Untreated, it could kill you in two weeks. Unlike chigger bites, however, you can cure erlichiosis.
A medical website has an aka list for this pest and its infestations: jigger, mite, harvest bug, red bug and summer penile syndrome. The latter is too scary to even think about.
Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join his conversation about birds at startribune.com/wingnut.