Monday, April 25, 2016
The Truth About Mites
" Mites live happily on the vents and the warm undersides of chickens. They don’t ordinarily stake out a dark crack and wait patiently to pounce at night."
" If there are mites or lice in a chicken coop, they are living on the chickens." - Both statements found on a popular chicken related blog on April 24, 2016.
The two statements above indicate the flock owner’s outright misunderstanding of the basic information that is out there about mites. There are three types of mites that are detrimental to backyard chicken flocks. The one that we can take out of the equation is the scaley leg mite as it is microscopic and is not the mite that is being addressed in the statements above. That leaves the Red Mite (a.k.a. Chicken Mite) and the Northern Fowl Mite. The Northern Fowl Mite lives directly on the chicken and the entire life cycle is spent on the chicken. That means they do not seek out cracks in the coop environment in which to live. They prefer to live and breed on the birds themselves. Yes, they are seen most often in the vent area or even in thickly feathered areas in the upper thigh and breast once the vent feathers are thinned beyond repair.
As for the Red Mite, they also feed on the chicken but can be found in the environment of the coop. The mites retreat from the birds after a blood meal; they usually feed on the birds at night, so look carefully when cleaning in the environment. Look under caked litter or in the bedding. Most often they seek out cracks in the wood which is why I recommend sealing wood surfaces to reduce harborage for the Red Mite when it is not on the bird feeding. To find these mites, you can go out into the coop in the evening after the chickens have gone to roost and look at the bird with a flashlight. Not only will they feed at the juncture of the scales and feathers on the legs, but elsewhere on the birds. These mites look like the Northern Fowl mite except after a blood meal when they turn red.
During your weekly cleanout you should move and clean equipment in the coop to disrupt hiding spaces. If you have drapes covering nest boxes, set them up in a way so that they are easy to remove and wash on a monthly basis. During your annual spring cleaning every inch of the coop will need to be scrubbed with soap and water. Murphy’s oil soap or Safer Soap are both insecticidal and work well for the cleaning step that precedes the disinfection step.
Before making broad statements about mites, make sure that you identify which type of mite to which you are making reference to ensure that your statements are accurate.
Response provided by Dr. Brigid McCrea, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Extension Poultry Specialist
Delaware State University