If not chiggers, then what?
Apparently my research on chiggers this week was inadequate. ... I've had three emails from science-types who say chiggers couldn't possibly be the type of mite infesting Violetville Elementary in Baltimore.
Will Brown, a wildlife biologist at University of Virginia, says the buggers are more likely clover or Erythraeid mites, harmless species that doesn't bite like chiggers do. (No students or staff at Violetville have reported chigger bites.) "Pest control companies are generally not good authorities on invertebrae identification, so it would be no surprise to me that a misidentification was made," Brown wrote. "They can also often (be) 'trigger happy' and happy to spray pesticides on anything moving, even harmless invertebrates."
Elaine Parker of University of Maryland predicts that the "chiggers" are actually red spider mites, which she says have been out in full force. "No self-respecting chigger would let all that tasty flesh go unsampled for long," she wrote. "And, the idea that an 'exterminator' is going out into the woods to spray any and everything there is appalling. Young birds, animals, beneficial insects will be poisoned for no good reason."
Robert Kluver Sr., who has worked in pest control for more than 35 years, is on board with the spider mites theory. "Someone needs to get to the bottom of this and have these bugs identified by a state certified entomologist," he wrote.
I consulted with Keith Scroggins, the school system's chief operating officer, who said he can't prove one way or another what kind of mites have infested Violetville. But he said he will "promise that children and staff will not come back to a pesticide-covered building."
Some Violetville parents, meanwhile, wrote in frustration. One mother was upset that parents weren't informed about the pest problem for five days after it was discovered, saying they wouldn't have sent their children to school on Tuesday had they known. Another said the school building "is deplorable and should be condemned."