Friday, 4 September 2015

What lurks in the French garden

I love gardening but lately I've become too afraid to go out there unless I absolutely have to. I know there are beasties in France like snakes, though I doubt I'll ever see one, especially where I live, but this nasty has me beat. I'm talking about the Aoûtat. It's very active around August (Août) and September, hence its name.

It's not a sandfly or mosquito or tick. It's an acarien (mite/spider) with 8 legs. Adults are harmless but the larvae are a nightmare. They are generally too small to see. How they get on me is a mystery but if  I step outside the house to go to the car or call the dog or pick some salad I will be attacked, bigtime. They love me more than JC and his dog and the effects last between 1-3 weeks.

Meet Trombicula autumnalis. 
The harvest mite, Trombicula autumnalis, is a species of mite of the family Trombiculidae. Their larvae (stage 2 of diagram) live parasitically; they infect all domestic mammals, humans, and some ground-nesting birds. They feed for two to three days on humans, rabbits, hedgehogs, voles, too. Once they've fed enough they drop to the ground to start the next stage of their life-cycle. They do not suck blood. Instead they pierce the skin (especially around bras, knickers, trousers, socks). They will attack your tender private parts, your head, in your ears, on your face - everywhere, I know.

They use a sort of funnel to inject saliva to dissolve your cell tissue, making it liquid so they can suck it out and it is the damage from the creation of this feeding tunnel, the irritation from the saliva and the tissue damage which makes bites from this mite a misery. On me they are beyond count, and grossly swollen. They itch appallingly for a week, then settle to being red marks that are a bit itchy which sometimes weep. After 2-3 weeks you just have bright red marks left on your body. It's not attractive.

If I must harvest my potager I am forced to stand naked in front of JC while he sprays me from top to toe and in between (I'll leave that to your imagination). Obviously this is more fun for him than me. Reeking, I slope off to do my gardening, knowing that I'm still going to suffer for my art. The spray helps but not enough. I haven't found a product that really relieves the itching. Even the aloe vera plant I have on hand is less effective in France than in Auckland. The aloe juice is more liquid, less viscous and doesn't relieve the symptoms as well as my plants in NZ did.

I've had two months of this torture and can expect at least another month more. I never thought I'd want winter to come quickly. Ha, in winter it's too unpleasant to go outside. They've got me and it's taking a lot of the pleasure of picking my bountiful tomatoes, raspberries, courgettes, cucumbers and salad.  I hesitate to take an antihistamine but I'm getting desperate for sleep. JC says I must taste exotic or I'm giving off yummy pheromones. Screw it! I'm covered in spray, rubber boots and two layers of clothing. Any suggestions?


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