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Darkling Beetle Control on Poultry Farms

Rowan Burgess |

Darkling beetles are insects attracted to poultry farms because of chicken manure. Cool, dark farm buildings with plenty of faecal matter provide the perfect environment for these beetles, and the critters can spell disaster for poultry farmers. 

Darkling beetles are vectors for common poultry viruses and diseases, including Salmonella, different strains of E.coli, and Avian influenza.

These bugs are a severe biosecurity risk to any poultry farm, so it’s imperative to understand their lifecycle and know how to control them. Proactive measures and prevention are the best ways to protect your birds and profits.

Characteristics and Life Cycle of Darkling Beetles

Darkling beetles, also called ‘Litter Beetles’, have a natural appetite for decaying faecal matter. A poultry farm is an ultimate smorgasbord for the Darkling beetle and the perfect breeding ground.

Their lifecycle ranges from 30 to 180 days and starts with eggs laid by adults. The eggs hatch and produce larvae, a process that can happen quickly. Depending on the conditions, they can grow from egg to larvae within four days up to two weeks. Larvae are known as mealworms.

Mealworms remain in their larval state for around 8 to 10 weeks, after which they outgrow their exoskeleton and develop into Pupa. The pupa appears dormant, but after about three weeks, it will split open, and the adult beetle emerges.

Adults mate and lay eggs almost immediately and throughout their lifespan, which can be anything from three months to one year. However, many Darkling beetles live much longer than this in optimal conditions.

Adult darkling beetles are black or dark brown, with long, oval bodies. They don’t fly because their wings have fused. The yellow mealworm beetle is another name for this pest, which describes the beetle in its larval stage. They can look dead or decaying when they're pupa, but these are still live insects.

If you see either of these forms—the dark brown adult beetle or the yellow mealworm—you’ve likely got a darkling beetle infestation.

Monitoring Darkling Beetles

  • Familiarise yourself with the different stages of the Darkling beetles’ lifecycle. Know what to look for visually so that you can identify an infestation. 
  • Understand where Darkling beetles might lurk. They prefer dark, warm places, such as leaf litter. If you’ve been feeding your poultry mealworms, that’s also darkling beetles in their larval stages.
  • Observe the flock closely for underperforming birds and any fowl showing pain or discomfort during defecation. Stressed birds could be a sign that they are eating the beetles in adult form.

Chemical Control of Darkling Beetles

Darkling beetles are a category of insects that includes more than 20,000 different species in the Tenebrionidae family. The species diversity can make chemical control quite challenging.

A proprietary insecticide will kill both larval and adult Darkling beetles. It’s essential to ensure adequate coverage, especially in hard-to-reach areas in the building.

Whenever a poultry shed is empty, take this perfect opportunity to clean the building with insecticide treatments.

You should spray the poultry shed or barn immediately after the birds have left and apply the insecticide to the interior and exterior. Spraying the outside prevents the insects from migrating to other locations on the farm.

Monitor the building until it is absent of beetles and only use it for chicks once it is clear. You can apply certain insecticides with live birds, but it’s important to check this out carefully. 

Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when mixing and applying insecticides. Products should be used on a carefully constructed rotation to avoid developing chemical resistance.

Physical Control of Darkling Beetles

Good animal husbandry involves regular barn cleaning and disinfection programmes, significantly impacting the Darkling beetle population.

When a house is empty, inspect it for beetles and remove any live insects before washing and disinfecting the building. Remove all portable fixtures, but remember to check carefully in and around fixed structures.

Poultry shed structure plays a vital role in the control of Darkling beetles. Closed houses with good water drainage and a smooth concrete floor will discourage them.

Best Practices for Poultry Farm Darkling Beetle Control

Controlling Darkling beetle populations on poultry farms requires a multi-faceted approach involving suitable management protocols and thoughtful building construction and farm design.

  • Identify Common Locations. Darkling beetles like pillars, gaps in the wall, nests, and egg collection areas can also lurk in the roof space of buildings where they are attracted to insulation material.
  • Inspect at the Right Time. Darkling beetles are nocturnal, so knowing where to find them and when to look is essential.
  • Introduce Routine Spraying. Applying insecticide monthly to all buildings will reduce the Darkling beetle population.
  • Check Numbers Regularly. A population of 1-10 beetles per square foot indicates that control measures work. It’s impossible to eliminate Darkling beetles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Chickens Eat Darkling Beetles?

Young fowl may feed on darkling beetles in preference to grain, lowering productivity due to poor feed conversion from their less-than-optimal diet. The beetle shell is indigestible and causes pain to the birds during defecation.

Farmers also used to feed their flock mealworms, but DEFRA banned this practice in 2014.

What Is the Best Insecticide for Darkling Beetles?

The best insecticide for Darkling beetles is Alpha SCT, a broad-spectrum product with a fast knockdown rate and long-lasting residual action. It’s easy to use and cost-effective.

This product is also safe to use in areas where the public has access, for instance, a farm shop or commercial complex.

What Temperature Kills Darkling Beetles?

All lifecycle stages of the Darkling beetle are vulnerable to temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 

A straightforward option is to open up an empty poultry building and leave it open for a week or more in freezing temperatures. Freezing them out will work as effectively as a chemical insecticide.

Final Thoughts

With a sustained and persistent threat to the national flock from Avian influenza, there has never been a better time to get to grips with the Darkling beetle.

Insect control must be a top priority on any poultry farm to prevent disease, promote good flock health and support productivity and farm yield. 

Dalton’s fly and insect control products will protect your poultry from all types of insect predation with various chemical and physical deterrents that approach the problem from all angles. 

Shop today for reliable quality products from brands you can trust and professional advice.