The 4 creatures that can BURROW under your skin – and the signs you’re infected

THE thought of it might make you feel a little sick.

But there are several creepy crawlies that can burrow under your skin and stay there for weeks without you knowing.

There are several bugs which can burrow under your skin and lay eggs


There are several bugs which can burrow under your skin and lay eggsCredit: Alamy

They feed on your flesh and blood and can even lay eggs – and you could have no idea.

These creatures can also cause serious bacterial infections, like Lyme disease and scabies.

Professor Adam Hart, ecologist, conservation scientist and entomologist at the University of Gloucestershire, said: “To many creepy crawlies, we are just a place to live in or on, and rather a good place at that.

“But to access all the nutrients we offer, creatures have to somehow get ‘inside’.

“One way to do that is to burrow in through the skin.

“Mosquitoes manage to pierce through our skin to get at our blood but other, smaller, creatures are able to one step further.”

Here, we take a look at four of worst bugs for making themselves at home on your body.

1. Mites

A Sarcoptes scabiei mite, the cause of the contagious skin infection Scabies


A Sarcoptes scabiei mite, the cause of the contagious skin infection ScabiesCredit: Getty – Contributor

Sarcoptes scabiei – also known as human itch mites – are microscopic bugs that live on their hosts.

Unfortunately, this can mean human flesh.

Adult female mites tunnel into the top layer of skin and can remain there undetected for weeks.

Even more disgustingly, they often lay eggs, Professor Hart says.

Mites are typically invisible to the naked eye so people usually don’t notice them until raised marks appear on their body.

An itchy red rash or spots can also develop – two common signs of the skin condition scabies.

The most frequently reported symptoms include:

  • Red, rash-like marks
  • Small bumps that can become hard or inflamed
  • Irritation
  • Itching – particularly at night
  • Pain near the mark, rush or bump
  • Swollen or blistered skin

While uncomfortable and fast-spreading, scabies can usually be cleared with a cream or lotion.

2. Ticks

An illustration of a tick crawling on human skin


An illustration of a tick crawling on human skinCredit: Getty

Another bug with the horrifying habit of burrowing into the body is the tick.

These small, spider-like creatures feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans.

They live in woods, gardens and areas with long grass, and are found all over the UK.

You are most at risk if you take part in activities such as hiking, cycling or camping, the UK Health Security Agency warns.

While ticks don’t fly or jump, they climb onto animals and people as they brush past.

Professor Hart said: “If you walk through long grass you might pick up a tick.

“These relatives of spiders use sharp mouthparts to get through our skin to feed on our blood.”

The most common disease ticks transmit is Lyme disease – identified by a circular or oval-shaped rash around a bite, the NHS says.

Some people also get flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, headache, and tiredness.

Someone who has been infected most frequently notices:

  • Swelling
  • Itchiness
  • Blistering
  • Bruising
  • A high temperature
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Tiredness and loss of energy

Other potential infections include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia.

To reduce the risk of getting infection, you should try to remove a tick with tweezers as soon as possible.

If caught early, Lyme disease is treated with a short course of oral antibiotics.

3. Screwworms

Parasitic flies known as screwworms make themselves unwelcome tenants on your body


Parasitic flies known as screwworms make themselves unwelcome tenants on your bodyCredit: Getty

Parasitic flies, known as screwworms or the “the maggots of a fly species”, also make themselves unwelcome tenants on your body.

Sometimes called tumbu, mango, maggot and bot flies, they are attracted by the smell of open wounds, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

But they also like to invade mucus-covered tissue like that in the ears, eyes, nostrils, anus and belly button.

Screwworms can dig up to two inches into human flesh before feeding on muscle.

An infestation of screwworm maggots on a human body is called myiasis.

This is detected by a lump under the surface of the skin and is most prevalent in Africa and South America, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Common symptoms include:

  • A lump under the surface of the skin
  • Larvae moving under the skin
  • Itchiness
  • Skin irritation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Larvae in your poo

To treat myiasis, the larvae need to be removed by a medical professional then the area kept clean, WebMD reports.

4. Chigoe fleas

A Tunga penetran, or chigoe flea, which also burrows under human skin


A Tunga penetran, or chigoe flea, which also burrows under human skinCredit: Alamy

And finally, Tunga penetrans, also called chigoe fleas, jigger, sand fleas, nigua, pico, pique, chica and suthi, can mine into your skin.

Both male and female chigoe fleas bite, but only the pregnant ones go beneath the surface.

They attach themselves to you with their mouths then claw their way into your flesh – usually the toes, sole and heel of the foot.

There, the fleas feed and nurture up to 100 eggs before being discarded with dead skin cells.

When new fleas hatch and re-bite, the area can become painful and itchy. This infection is known as tungiasis.

It occurs in resource-poor populations in the tropics of the Caribbean, South America and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the WHO.

Common symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Irritation
  • Ulcers
  • Abscesses
  • Bullous lesions
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of nails
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To treat tungiasis, the embedded fleas need to be removed.

A topical treatment is then usually applied.

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