Tim is a poultry enthusiast and keeps chickens, ducks, and geese at his home in Bedfordshire, UK. He runs the hobby website poultrykeeper.com in his spare time.
There are several species of ectoparasite but Dermanyssus gallinae, otherwise know as the red mite, is by far the most common and resilient that you will encounter as a backyard chicken keeper.
Red mites (or chicken mites as they are sometimes called) are small but still visible with the naked eye. They are known as temporary ectoparasites because they only spend 1 to 2 hours on your chickens whilst feeding. They live in the cracks and crevaces of chicken coops and are almost always found underneath perch ends, close to where chickens roost. They can sometimes be found in nest boxes where hens lay and broody hens are at risk while they are sitting.
Signs and Symptoms of Red Mite
Red mites are only active during warmer weather. Once the temperature drops below 50°F they will become dormant until the weather warms up again.
Chickens will often reduce or stop laying and may refuse to go into the coop at night to roost. Sometimes mites will be found crawling on eggs when they are collected, when squashed, these can appear as blood streaks. Red mites will cause anaemia and poor health: a pale comb and wattles are common. In extreme cases of a heavy infestation they can cause death. They can spread a number of poultry diseases such as Fowl Pox or Newcastle Disease from bird to bird
Despite their name, red mites are often grey to black in colour unless they have had a recent blood feed. If you look carefully, you will usually find a range of different sized mites which are at different stages of growth but the adult mites that have had a blood feed are the easiest to spot.
The photo above shows a typical infestation of red mites that were found on a perch end.
Photo courtesy of Tim Daniels
This photo shows a number of red mites that have had a blood feed. As time passes, the colour of the mite gets darker as can be seen here.
Photo courtesy of Tim Daniels
If there are red mites in your coop, inspecting perch ends will usually reveal them. They also leave a tell-tale grey "ash like" excretion which is sometimes easier to spot. As the number of red mites multiply, they will be found in many other places around the coop until the whole coop will be infested.
An easy test to make sure your coop is red mite free is to take a piece of white tissue and wipe it along the underside of the perches at night. Smears of blood along the tissue will indicate the presence of red mites.
Treating the Coop
Once you have them, red mites are notoriously difficult to get rid of and will multiply quickly. It is a good idea to inspect your coop regularly and treat your coop at the first signs of an infestation.
The most important thing to remember is that the life cycle of the red mite (egg to egg) can be completed in as little as 6-7 days during warm weather. This means that if you treat the coop, eggs that are missed during the treatment can hatch and turn into adult mites laying thousands more eggs in about a week! It is critical to re-treat at intervals of less than this to have a chance of bringing an infestation under control.
There are a number of anti-mite treatments available. Liquids are good for getting into the cracks and powders such as Ditomaceous Earth (DE) are useful for dusting around the coop for a residual effect.
It is not uncommon to have to repeat anti-mite treatments many times to bring them under control and then "manage their numbers" without actually removing them completely from the coop.
Unfortunately, red mites can survive for 7 to 8 months without a blood feed. The female mite only mates and lays her eggs after a feed, so moving your birds out of the coop whilst treating it should help bring things under control faster as well as giving your chickens some respite.
Broody hens are at risk whilst they are sitting, so their nest box should be examined carefully and hens should be dusted with DE or a red mite powder that is safe to use on hens.
If mites have gone under a felt roof, they are almost impossible to get rid of, so you will normally need to remove the felt completely and replace the roof material with an alternative roofing material.
Further information can be found about red mites from the following websites:
Red mite section on poultrykeeper.com
From identifying red mite to products that will kill them including the latest developments in predator mites.
Red mite page on keeping chickens: The beginners guide
Further information including a macro photograph of red mite before and after a feed and their minute white eggs.
How to Get Rid of a Serious Red Mite Infestation on blog.poultrykeeper.com
Blog post about removing red mite from a coop using a pressure washer and Diatomaceous Earth (DE).
Will Red Mite Infest Your House? on blog.poultrykeeper.com
As scary as this may seem, it appears many people are suffering with a red mite infestation in their own homes, often carried in by pets.
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