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. An appropriate solution of permethrin, when sprayed on the birds, will eliminate all mites that infest the bird. 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.