Among all the poultry Ectoparasites such as fowl ticks, lice and flies, mites are considered to be the most destructive ones.
Particularly the poultry red mite (Dermanyssus Gallinae, also known as the Fowl Red Mite) has been identified as the most
harmful one for laying hens.
The title “Red” has been given to this mite
as it turns from grey to red or dark red after
being engorged with blood. Red mites are
nocturnal (night-active) parasites which
suck the birds’ blood during periods of
darkness and hide themselves in all kinds
of gaps and cracks during the daytime.
This behaviour makes the treatment of red
mites harder and more complicated than
other mite species like the northern fowl
mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum). Unlike the
red mite, the northern fowl mite spends
its entire life attached to its host. As such,
treatment should only be applied directly
on the birds. On the other hand, the red
mite is able to survive long periods of time
in the surroundings without being on the
host bird and without even having a single meal of blood. This means that any
treatment against fowl red mite must be
applied on the birds as well as within the
house and on the equipment. This implies
that even after the removal of the birds,
the poultry house will remain infested for
a long time, i.e. if no appropriate treatment would be applied. Furthermore, the
long period of egg production allows for
red mites to create large populations and
cause heavy infestation in poultry farms.
Under favourable conditions (i.e. within
ambient temperatures of between 25 – 30
˚C and a relative humidity of 60 – 70 %),
the life cycle of a red mite from an egg to
an adult, can be completed within 7 – 14
Fowl red mites are spread almost worldwide.
Especially farmers in Europe, the Middle East
and Asia do not only suffer from production
losses but are also confronted with health as
well as financial damages caused by the infestation of these mites. The problem of its
infestation and the consequences are often
underestimated. Losses due to red mite infestation are estimated to be between 0.50
and 1€ per laying hen per year in Europe
depending on housing system, infestation
intensity and control methods.
poultry red mite
The methods of controlling red mite can
be divided into applications of conventional chemicals and alternative solutions.
Synthetic acaricides such as Organo Phosphates, Carbomates, Pyrethroids are the
most common chemicals used against
mite infestations, although it must be mentioned that due to some problems, their efficiency and the success of their application
are getting to be more questionable.
Developing resistance against acaricides
caused by red mite populations has been
ongoing for years now which might make
treatment almost ineffective. Furthermore,
wrong dosage and improper application
of an acaricide can also accelerate the
process of resistance development. Using
higher dosages of pesticide is also a risk for
the health of birds and consumers due to
possible residues which might be found in
eggs and meat. On the other hand, constant changes in legislations in respective
countries and a very limited number of
pesticides licensed against red mite, make
the situation even harder for farmers to
control this pest.
In order to tackle the abovementioned
problems and other hindrances in the use
of conventional chemicals and pesticides
against poultry red mite, new alternative
solutions were developed in recent years.
It is well-known that “Essential oils”
derived from plants such as garlic, neem tree,
thyme and tea have a toxic effect against
red mites. Based on this fact, various products in forms of drinking and feeding additives are available on the market. Side
effects such as tainting eggs may occur
whilst using these products.
such as Spinosad which has been used against mites
of agricultural crops for several years now,
also have a good reputation for controlling poultry mites. Spinosad is a natural
product based on the fermentation of the
bacteria S.Spinosa. Proper application is essential for a successful treatment.
Using so-called “Predator mites” is
another rather new method of controlling
red mites. As a natural enemy, the predator mite is able to combat and eat poultry red mites. Choosing the correct predator
candidates in addition to proper management are essential for this method of control.
Based on the fact that temperatures above
45 °C are considered as lethal for poultry
red mites, “Heat treatments”
practiced lately in European countries.
Heating up the poultry house to up to
60 °C for about 2 hours or 45 °C for a longer time after birds are removed, are common models of this treatment. The fusibility of plastic parts of the equipment must
be considered and treatment should be
performed by experts with great caution.
“Low temperature treatments”
liquid nitrogen and dry ice have also been
experimented on. These methods are too
expensive and still need to be developed
for common practice.
Special “Intermittent lighting programs”
are also tools to control red mites
and this is being practiced mainly in Middle Eastern and African countries. Negative effects on feed consumption, laying
performance and disturbance of circadian
rhythm can be expected. However, the European bird welfare legislation forbids such
An example of a very common treatment against poultry red mite in Germany
and the Netherlands is the use of “Inert
, a physical treatment based on Silicon Dioxide compounds which blocks the
joints between chitin shell and causes the
immobilisation of mites. Furthermore, silicate dust enters the respiratory system of
the red mites causing suffocation. Choosing the proper product, mixture, particle
size, pressure and appropriate application
are crucial for a successful treatment. On
the other hand, application of inert dusts
in poultry houses causes stress and health
problems for birds and staff. The impact
and side effects of this treatment should
be further investigated.
Apply a treatment as soon as the first mites have been detected and before the mite population increases. (A heavy infestation of fowl red
mites in a poultry house, Photo: Farhad Mozafar / LTZ)
The development of “Vaccines” is also
another alternative solution in controlling
the populations of poultry mites. There
are different research groups which are
working on identifications and characterisation of possible antigens against red
mites. If such vaccines can be successfully developed, the first candidates for a
commercial vaccine against poultry red
mites might just be available in the near
Some simple basic tools besides biosecurity measures and hygiene management
issues can be very useful in controlling the
infestation of red mites. Some of these are
• Find an effective and individual concept, e.g. the combination of different
treatments suitable for your farm and
• Give mites little or no possibility to hide
themselves in equipment and in the
building of your farm.
• Use monitoring tools like mite traps to
start a treatment as soon as the first
mites have been detected and before
the mite population increases.
• Apply treatment directly after the removal of the birds and before the mites
get a chance to hide themselves in
cracks and crevices.
• The use of an effective insecticide
against red mite eggs is highly recommended since many treatments do not
show efficiency against mite eggs.
• Prevent the occurrence of red mite reinfestation in your farm (from rearing,
construction of houses, transport vehicles, staff, visitors, wild birds etc.)
Unfortunately, the current treatment methods which are available are not effective
enough to keep red mite infestation under
control in many poultry farms worldwide.
The ban of conventional cages in Europe
and keeping more laying hens in alternative systems like free-range which is, by the
way, favoured by red mites, make the situation even more difficult. These kinds of systems give mites more hiding possibilities and they can therefore escape control
methods more easily. Hence, there is still a
great demand in developing more useful
effective treatments such as vaccines to
keep red mite infestations under control.
However, controlling red mite population
still remains a very big challenge in the
keeping of laying hens.
Choosing the proper product, mixture, particle size, pressure and appropriate application are crucial for a successful treatment with inert
dusts. The impact and side effects of this treatment on birds and humans should be further investigated. (A poultry house after Silicate
dust treatment, Photo: Farhad Mozafar / LTZ)
Use tools like adhesive mite traps or cardboards to monitor infestation intensity in your farm (different kinds of red mite monitoring tools,
Photo: Farhad Mozafar / LTZ)