All classes of poultry are susceptible to mites, some of which are blood-suckers, while others burrow into the skin or live on or in the feathers. Others occur in the air passages and in the lungs, liver and other internal organs. Poultry mites cause retarded growth, reduced egg production, lowered vitality, damaged plumage and even death. Much of the injury, consisting of constant irritation and loss of blood, is not apparent without careful examination.
Of primary concern to the poultryman is the Northern Fowl Mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) which is a frequent and serious pest of chickens. Heavy infestations result in low condition of the birds and lower egg production, as well as a scabby skin condition. The mite remains on the bird and does more damage than any other species of mite. The mite does not leave the host bird, as do may species of mites, and can be observed on birds in large numbers during daylight hours. It prefers the feathers below the vent and around the tail, but can be found on all parts of the body. The mite is extremely small and a microscope or magnifying glass may be needed to see it.
The female northern fowl mite lays eggs on feathers where the young mites complete their development without leaving the host. Since they remain on the fowl most of the time, treatment of the birds is necessary to destroy the mites.
The Common Chicken Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) is the most common mite found on all types of poultry. It is a blood-sucker, and when present in large numbers, loss of blood and irritation may be sufficient to cause anemia. Egg production is seriously reduced.
This mite feeds at night, and usually remains hidden in cracks and crevices during the day. It attacks birds at night while they are on the roost. In heavy infestations, some mites may remain on the birds during the day. About a day after feeding, the female lays eggs in cracks and crevices of the house. The eggs hatch and the mites develop into adults within about a week. During cold weather, the cycle is slower. A poultry house remains infested four to five months after birds are removed.
Since the mite feeds on wild birds, these birds may be responsible for spreading infestations. However, it is more likely that spread of the mite is promoted by using contaminated coops. Human carriers are also important. Since these mites do not stay on the birds during the day, apply treatments to houses and equipment as well as the birds.
The Scaly-Leg Mite (Knemidocoptes mutans) lives under the scales on feet and legs of poultry. It also may attach to the comb and wattles. It causes a thickening of scales on the feet and legs that gives the impression that the scales are protruding directly outward, rather that laying flat on the limb. It spends its entire life cycle on the birds and spreads mainly by direct contact.
The Depluming Mite (Knemidocoptes laevis, variety gallinae) causes severe irritation by burrowing into the skin near the bases of feathers and frequently causes feathers to be pulled out or broken. The mite is barely visible to the naked eye and can be found in follicles at the base of the feathers. The mites crawl around the birds at times, spreading from bird to bird.
The most effective treatment for all mite species is a regular inspection and spraying program of both the birds and their premises. The spraying of all facilities will ensure that any mites hiding in cracks and crevices will be destroyed. The treatment should be repeated on a one to two month schedule or whenever populations of the mites are detected.
The primary effects of lice on their hosts are the irritations they cause. The birds become restless and do not feed or sleep well. They may injure themselves or damage their feathers by pecking or scratching areas irritated by lice. Body weight and egg production may drop.
All lice infecting poultry and birds are the chewing type. Mites may be confused with lice, but mites suck blood. In general, each species of lice is confined to a particular kind of poultry, although some may pass from one kind to another when birds are closely associated. Chickens usually are infested with one or more of seven different species; turkeys have three common species.
All species of poultry lice have certain common habits. All live continuously on feathered hosts and soon die if removed. The eggs are attached to the feathers. Young lice resemble adults except in color and size. Lice differ in preferred locations on the host, and these preferences have given rise to the common names applied to various species.
In general, the incubation period of lice eggs is four to seven days, and development of the lice between hatching and the adult stage requires about twenty-one days. Mating takes place on the fowl, and egg laying begins two to three days after lice mature. The number of eggs probably ranges from fifty to three-hundred per female louse.
As the name suggests, the Head Louse (Cuclotogaster heterographa) is found mainly on the head, although it occurs occasionally on the neck and elsewhere. It usually is located near the skin in the down or at the base of the feathers on the top and back of the head and beneath the beak. In fact, the head of the louse often is found so close to the skin that poultrymen may think it is attached to the skin or is sucking blood. Although it does not suck blood, the head louse is very irritating and ranks first among lice as a pest of young chickens and turkeys. Heavily infested chicks soon become droopy and weak and may die before they are a month old. When the chickens become fairly well feathered, head lice decrease but may increase again when the fowls reach maturity.
This louse is oblong, grayish and about 1/10-inch long. The pearly-white eggs are attached singly to the down or at the base of the small feathers on the head. They hatch within five days into minute, pale, translucent lice resembling adults in shape.
The Body Louse (Menacanthus stramineus) of chickens prefers to stay on the skin rather than on the feathers. It chooses parts of the body that are not densely feathered, such as the area below the vent. In heavy infestations, it may be found on the breast, under the wings and on other parts of the body, including the head.
When the feathers are parted, straw-colored body lice may be seen running rapidly on the skin in search of cover. Eggs are deposited in clusters near the base of small feathers, particularly below the vent, or in young fowls, frequently on the head or throat. Eggs hatch in about a week and lice reach maturity within twenty days.
This is the most common louse infesting grown chickens. When present in large numbers, the skin is irritated greatly and scabs may result, especially below the vent.
The Shaft Louse or small body louse (Menopon gallinae) is similar in appearance to the body louse, but smaller. It has a habit of resting on the body feather shafts of chickens where it may be seen running rapidly toward the body when feathers are parted suddenly. Sometimes as many as a dozen lice may be seen scurrying down a feather shaft.
Since the shaft louse apparently feeds on parts of the feathers, it is found in limited numbers on turkeys, guinea fowl and ducks kept in close association with chickens. It does not infest young birds until they become well feathered.
The same control measures used to eliminate mite populations is effective for treating lice. It is more important to apply the insecticides directly to the bird’s body rather than the premises.
The Fowl Tick (Argas persicus) may be a serious parasite of poultry if it becomes numerous in poultry houses or on poultry ranges. The tick is a blood-sucker, and when present in large numbers it results in weakened birds, reduced egg production, emaciation and even death. The fowl tick is found throughout most of the South and is extremely hardy. Ticks have been kept alive without food for more than three years. The ticks will feed on all fowl.
Fowl ticks spend most of their lives in cracks and hiding places, emerging at night to take a blood meal. Mating takes place in the hiding areas. A few days after feeding, the female lays a batch of eggs. In warm weather the eggs hatch within fourteen days. In cold weather they may take up to three months to hatch. Larvae that hatch from the eggs crawl around until they find a host fowl. They remain attached to the birds for three to ten days. After leaving the birds they find hiding places and molt before seeking another blood meal. This is followed by additional moltings and blood meals.
Ticks are difficult to eradicate and methods employed must be performed carefully. It is not necessary to treat the birds, but houses and surrounding areas must be treated thoroughly.
These pests (Trombicula splendens, Trombicula alfreddugesi, and Neoschongastia americana americana) attack chickens and turkeys, as well as humans. Normally these small mites feed on wild animals, birds, snakes and lizards. Only the larvae of chiggers attack poultry or animals; adult mites feed on plants.
Larvae usually attach to the wings, breasts and necks of poultry. They inject a poisonous substance that sets up local irritation and itching. After a few days, the larvae become engorged and drop off. Injury to grown fowl may not be apparent or noticed until the bird is dressed; then the lesions are readily apparent and greatly reduce the carcass value. Young chickens or turkeys may become droopy, refuse to eat and die. Due to methods of raising poultry, turkeys are more affected than chickens.
Control of External Parasites
There are many insecticides available to help control external poultry parasites. The most effective broad spectrum insecticide is permethrin. Permethrin has a significant residual activity, thus making it ideal for treating facilities and equipment. At reduced concentrations it can be applied to the bird. Follow all manufacturers recommendations when using all insecticides.