Today’s topic is all about chicken mites.
These little creepy crawlies can make your flocks life miserable and will keep you busy with dusting, spraying and changing bedding.
Truth be told, most flocks get small infestations of lice or mites during the summer months.
However it is when that infestation gets out of control you have a real problem on your hands (especially with red mites and Northern fowl mites).
Some mites are incredibly resistant to being treated.
Keep reading to learn how to know if your chickens have mites and how to treat the most common types of chicken mites…
Contents and Quick Navigation
- Chicken Mites 101
- Most Common Types of Chicken Mites
- Do Your Chickens Have Mites? (Chicken Mite Symptoms)
- How To Treat Chicken Mites
- How To Prevent Chicken Mites
- FAQs About Chicken Mites
Chicken Mites 101
Chicken Mites are tiny ectoparasites that live outside of the chicken.
They belong to the Acari family and are distant relatives of ticks, spiders and scorpions.
Mites are commonly spread to chickens from wild birds, as all types of bird can suffer from mites.
Once established mites will move from bird to bird increasing the population of mites as they go. Their life cycle is brief (usually 7-10 days) and during that time they will lay as many eggs as possible.
This will make life for your chickens fairly miserable so it is important to be able to identify mites and also treat them.
The exact treatment will vary depending on the type of mite.
In the following sections we look at the different types of mite, symptoms and treatment of each variety.
Most Common Types of Chicken Mites
Northern Fowl Mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum)
Northern fowl mites are a big problem here in the US.
They can cause skin problems, reduced egg laying, anemia and death.
These little nasties thrive in temperatures between 65-68°F, but they can cause problems at lower temperatures too.
In ideal circumstances their life cycle can be as short as 7 days.
Unlike the red mite, the Northern fowl mite spends their entire life on the chicken. They are very tiny (around 1/26 inch) so they are barely visible with the naked eye and are a black/red color.
If you suspect mites then you should pin up a white cloth in your coop near where your chickens roost. If you see any mites or lice crawling on the cloth then you should start treatment.
They can survive for up to 3 weeks when they have been removed from a chicken.
Scaly Leg Mite (Knemidocoptes mutans)
These mites burrow under the scales on the legs and feet of the chicken.
As you can imagine this causes the chicken some distress and can lead to secondary infections.
Whilst this mite does not do the same damage as Northern fowl mites, it is an uncomfortable experience for the chicken.
Chickens can become lame and have difficulty roosting.
This infestation can be difficult to see on chickens that have feathered legs so extra care should be taken when inspecting these birds as they are more susceptible.
Depluming Mite (Knemidocoptes gallinae)
The depluming mite is a close relative of the scaly leg mite.
This critter burrows into the skin around the feather shaft of your chickens.
These mites cause irritation and the fluid released from the damaged cells is what the mite feeds on. The irritation can become so bad that the chicken will literally pull out her own feathers to get to the mite.
Feathers of the head, neck, upper body and belly are the usual sites of infestation.
Red Mite (Dermanyssus gallinae)
All mites are hated but the red mite is probably the most hated of all.
The red mite is a major pest in the UK and Europe.
While they are present in the US they are not such a huge problem yet.
These mites are very difficult to remove from your coop.
The life cycle of the red mite can be as short as 7-10 days in ambient temperatures and humidity. During this time the adult will lay eggs which will hatch into larvae, which then become nymphs and then fully mature adults capable of laying eggs.
These mites are most active between May to October.
When temperatures are below 48°F they become inactive and can remain dormant without feeding for 7-8 months.
These mites live in the nooks and crannies of the coop – wooden coops are the worst for infestations. The mites emerge at night to feed on the chickens’ blood and return to their hideaway during the day.
They are normally a whitish/grey color but after feeding they will appear red.
The constant sucking of blood from the chicken can cause skin irritation, stress, decreased egg laying, anemia, lethargy and in severe cases death.
Tropical Fowl Mite (Ornithonyssus bursa)
These mites are common in tropical and sub-tropical areas.
They are usually spread by wild birds such as sparrows and starlings.
The mite causes intense itching, dermatitis, feather loss and anemia.
Tropical fowl mites spend their entire life cycle on the chicken and can survive for up to 3 weeks without a meal.
This is a common parasite found in abandoned bird nests and in areas where birds have nested. They can spread to humans too and cause avian mite dermatitis (acariasis) which causes itching, welts and dermatitis.
Do Your Chickens Have Mites? (Chicken Mite Symptoms)
So how do you know when your chickens have mites?
You will need to watch them for signs and symptoms like the following:
- Feather loss outside of the molting season.
- Their comb and wattles will slowly fade from a vibrant bright red to a pale and faded red.
- A decrease and slow down in egg production.
- Scabs or blood on their legs and feet.
- Small blood spots on the egg shells.
- Pecking and fusing at the leg or foot scales.
- Pulling out their own feathers.
- Having raised irregular scales on their legs or feet.
- Trouble perching.
- Perhaps the biggest tell is them being reluctant to roost at night.
Some of these symptoms can mean other things, but if you notice that several of your hens have the same symptoms then you should always investigate.
If you happen to find mites on one of your chickens then you can bet that all of your chickens have mites.
How To Treat Chicken Mites
The exact treatment you give your chickens will depend on which type of mite they have. So we will take a look at each type of mite and the recommended treatment.
Red Mite Treatment
The key to keeping red mite infestations under control is to be fanatical about treatment.
Once an infestation is discovered it should be treated immediately with follow up treatments every third day (or as recommended by the product you use).
The main chemical treatment available is Exzolt.
This is used in larger poultry concerns and may not be available to the general public without a prescription.
However, all natural products are becoming more popular.
Smite, Harmonix and Dergall (where available) generally use pyrethrin as their main ingredient. Pyrethrin is an all-natural product obtained from the Chrysanthemum plant. Whilst it is safe to use with chickens it is highly toxic to cats, fish and aquatic invertebrates.
Coops should be power washed if possible prior to disinfecting and treatment. Wooden coops should be replaced if possible.
Another treatment available is the use of the Andolis mite – it is a natural predator that feeds on the red mite but causes no problems for the chicken.
Northern Fowl Mite Treatment
You treat the northern fowl mite the same way as the red mite.
Colonies of northern fowl mites can be completely eradicated since they live entirely on the chicken.
You should dust nest boxes and perches with either pyrethrin or Diatomaceous Earth.
Just know that using Diatomaceous Earth is contentious in some circles.
Some folks say it is completely useless while others swear by it – personally I use it in addition to other treatments.
You should be aware that using too much dust is not good for you or your flock so use sparingly around their heads and always wear a mask when dusting.
Scaly Leg Mite Treatment
Scaly leg mite treatment is a bit different from what you have read so far.
Because the mites are located to one particular area of the chicken it is a little easier to treat.
You should soak your chicken’s legs in warm and soapy water to try to get some of the debris from under the scales – do not pull off scales or poke around underneath them.
Dry the legs well and then cover them in Vaseline (petroleum jelly). Make sure to apply thickly so that it gets up underneath the scales.
The idea here is to suffocate the mites.
This treatment will need to be done every couple of days for at least 10 days to break the mite’s life cycle.
If you have feather footed breeds you can use Adams flea and tick mister or Scaly leg protector. If the infestation is severe a veterinarian may prescribe Ivermectin.
Depluming Mite Treatment
Unfortunately the depluming mite is a tough one to treat.
Most powders do not penetrate down into the burrows. Because of this most veterinarians will prescribe Ivermectin as this works systemically on the mite.
If you happen to use this remember there is a one week withdrawal period for eggs.
Other treatments that may help are: permethrin dust, Ultracare 8 in 1, Eprinex and Elector.
Each of these has specific methods of application so be sure to follow the directions.
Tropical Fowl Mite Treatment
Most large scale commercial flocks use Exzolt to treat tropical fowl mite.
However this may not be available to the general public.
Some veterinarians recommend Fipronil or Elector.
Elector does not specifically mention tropical fowl mites but treats a host of other nasties including northern fowl mite.
It is very expensive but if you have a large infestation it may be worth the money. Also it is made from a natural substance so is considered organic.
How To Prevent Chicken Mites
A great deal of time, effort and money can go into eradicating these blood sucking insects.
So preventing chicken mites is much more preferable to treatment.
Biosecurity is very important to prevent mites.
If you visit other chickens or coops then make sure to change your clothing before you go to see your own flock.
Mites and lice will hitch a ride on clothing and boots, then end up in unsuspecting flocks.
Even trips to the feed store can bring home unwanted guests.
In addition to good biosecurity habits you should quarantine all new chickens and treat them for mites and lice.
Next up you should try to stop wild birds from interacting with your flock. Wild birds spread mites and lice far and wide, so make sure they do not build nests inside your coops or nearby.
Feeding your flock the appropriate nutrition will also help to keep them in good condition.
It is important to keep them in the best condition you can especially if they are under attack from mites.
Next you need to keep the coop as clean as you can.
Many folks will spray down perches with Neem oil weekly to keep insects at bay. When you change out bedding or nesting materials, use a sprinkle of Permethrin under the straw to kill any mites that fall from your chickens.
You can also use strong smelling herbs such as catmint, peppermint, oregano, marigolds and bee balm. They will discourage mites, flies and other insects.
Many herbs have anti-bacterial properties too and can relieve your hens’ stress.
Finally you need to get into the habit of checking your chickens regularly for infestations. Pick them up and do a quick vent check. If you find one chicken that has mites you should treat all in the same coop and any others they may have mingled with.
FAQs About Chicken Mites
Can mites live on humans?
Most mites cannot live and survive on humans but they can make your life miserable.
The tropical fowl mite can cause a human infestation.
Will mites bite humans?
Yes they will bite you.
In very sensitive individuals the bite can cause irritation, itching and swelling.
Can mites infest your house?
If you keep your chickens inside the house you should treat them regularly to prevent infestations from occurring.
The mites can set up home in carpets, cushions and clothing. Remember certain stages of red mite can survive for seven months without food so you will need to deep clean.
Will mites infest chicks?
With chicks, mites need to be dealt with immediately. It will not take them long to kill chicks.
If you are concerned about using chemicals then there are several herbal and non-chemical treatments available.
Many people jokingly say that to eradicate red mites from your coop you need to burn it down.
That is not quite true but it is not far off.
Chicken Mites are not only a nuisance but they can severely compromise the health of your flock.
Some are more tenacious than others meaning you have to be on alert constantly.
If you notice the ladies scratching and biting furiously then check them over for mites. Be fanatical about the treatment because if you let it go you will have an infestation of epic proportions before you know it.
Using common insecticides such as Permethrin is usually effective but there is a whole range of products out there to help you win the battle.
Using dusts or sprays is purely a personal choice.
I have used both methods and although I find sprays a little easier I am comfortable with dusting too.
The only reason I prefer sprays is that you can better control where you aim it and you are not breathing in a lungful of dust each time.
Let us know your questions in the comments section below…