Paducah, Ky. (AP) -- Like bacon and eggs, some things just seem to go together.
So it is with blackberries and chiggers, an interwoven duo that's good news and bad in a package deal.
Blackberries are the familiar fruits of several species of Rubus genus plants that grow as upright spreading canes The canes produce leaves and springs flowers, followed by some of the sweetest natural fruits in our wild environment.
Blackberry plants are some of the first to "volunteer" on open or cleared ground, canes reaching several feet in the few months of a single growing season. A blackberry cane produces fruit in its second year, the dies, newer canes carrying on with production.
The most apparent feature of the blackberry plant is that is bristles with needle-sharp bristles that grab at the clothing of human pedestrians, bogging them down and readily piercing tender skin.
The canes are generally avoided because of their painful "sticker" characteristics -- except right about now and into mid-summer as their berries ripen. They yield delicious fruit, lone famous as prime ingredients in cobblers and other desserts and they are quite desirable for eating berries alone.
The berries turn glossy black when ripe. When "green" they're and attractive red.
Humans have no exclusive favor for blackberries. The fruits of the thorny canes are an important seasonal food for most species of Kentucky wildlife. Many varieties of songbirds, wild turkey and quail eat them. So do raccoons, opossums, coyotes, foxes, squirrels, box turtles, deer, mice and voles. The deer, for one species, like them ripe, green -- red, that is --- or past their prime in a dried condition.
Despite the thorns, the plants themselves are important to wildlife. Deer eat the leaves and rabbits nibble the canes. Several songbirds are attracted to the canes for nesting habitat, and numerous birds, rabbits and small rodents use the prickly thicket as escape cover.
In early to middle July, people often turn to wild thickets for gathering berries to eat fresh or to freeze. Just after these gathering sessions is when they often note the itchy red welts on their skin that represent the handiwork of chiggers.
Chiggers, the larvae of harvest mites, are red-orange, six-legged arachnids that you've probably never seen. That's because it would take roughly 120 of them marching along in a tight nose-to-nose formation to make an inch-long column. They are so small as to be invisible to the human eye.
Adult harvest mites don't do this, but chiggers are parasites that feed, when give the opportunity, on humans and other animals. The chigger doesn't suck blood, but it crawls on a host, finds its way to a hair follicle or pore, then jabs a cutting mouthpiece into the skin. From there it injects a sort of saliva that digests and liquefies tissue, then sucks it up. The chigger itself does bury into the skin.
Chigger "bites" on people show up as red, itchy bumps that are the leftover result of the digestive juice injected into the skin. By the time people start scratching chigger welts, the tiny animal itself already may have dropped off, full and satisfied.
Human hosts of chiggers often use a folk remedy of painting welts with nail polish to "smother" the chiggers, which likely have already departed. The nail polish, indeed, may give some relief from itching by keeping air from the welts. Over-the-counter ointments with antihistamines or topical anesthetics may provide more relief from the torment.
Chiggers seem inseparable from blackberries, although they could be as prevalent on growth around the blackberry canes as on the canes themselves. Weedy habitat is generally effective in giving chiggers access to human pickers.
For berry picking or any other activity in tall grasses, weeds and brush, the best recommendation for blocking chiggers is a combination of a permethrine-based repellent sprayed thoroughly on one's clothing and an application of a DEET-based insect repellent on exposed skin.