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What Are Red Mite?

Rowan Burgess |

Red Mites are an occupational hazard on any poultry farm. Low numbers cause irritation and itching amongst the birds, but high numbers can cause anaemia in the flock.

A tiny insect, these mites are nearly visible to the naked eye. The ingestion of blood creates a distinctive red colour in mites, while their colour changes to grey or brown once the insect digests the blood.

Red mite infestation leads to poor health, reduced egg production, and even poultry death. Chicks are particularly susceptible to the mite’s saliva, which is toxic.

Learn all about red mites and prevent an infestation on your property.

Red Mite Life Cycle

Depending on its environmental temperature, the red mite lifecycle is only seven to ten days from egg to fully developed adult. Breeding is more prolific in spring and summer.

This parasite is inactive and cannot reproduce below 9°C, so they are most prolific between May and October.

Understanding the lifecycle makes it easier to control them once May comes around.

Eggs

Eggs take 2-3 days to hatch and produce 6-legged larvae. The larvae do not feed.

Larvae

The larvae moult into 8-legged protonymphs.

Protonymph

Protonymphs feed on chicken blood and will turn into Deutonymphs after another couple of days.

Deutonymph

Feeding deutonymphs take another 2-3 days to turn into adult mites.

Adult Red Mite

Adult female red mites feed more frequently than males. After feeding, a female mite mates and will lay eggs within 1-2 days, starting the entire lifecycle again. One adult female can lay up to 100 eggs per day.

What Health Risks Do Red Mite Pose?

Red mites cause anaemia as they ingest blood from the poultry, leading to poor flock health and lower egg production. If unchecked, it eventually leads to the death of adult birds.

As mentioned, chicks are particularly vulnerable as the saliva from the red mite is toxic to hatchlings and immature birds.

Signs and Symptoms of Red Mite

Biting red mites annoy and irritate the birds and make them restless. Birds may be reluctant to enter the housing and change their perching and laying habits.

Poultry already suffering from anaemia will have a pale comb and wattles and lose condition. Egg production reduces, and blood spots may be visible on collected eggs. Egg yolks may be paler.

It’s possible to see grey or red mites in the chicken housing, although they usually only prey on the birds at night. Check dark corners and crevices carefully, as you may even see them on the eggs.

Run your hand along the underside of perches, being mindful of splinters. 

Look out for a grey material like cigarette ash in appearance. This mite excreta is often visible outside of cracks and crevices and on perch ends where the mites are hiding.

A simple and effective test is to scrunch up a plastic bag or piece of old towelling and force it into a crevice or the corner of a nest box. Check the trap in the morning, as the reddish cluster of mites feed at night.

Red Mite Control

Red mites feed on any birds, but chickens are particularly vulnerable as they roost at night, whereas turkeys and geese tend to move around. Yes, chickens are sitting ducks!

It’s impossible to eliminate all red mites on a poultry farm, but keeping the population low with proper protocols and control protects the flock and its output.

Because of the very short lifecycle of this parasite in the warmer months, it’s essential to treat chicken housing every 3-4 days before the protonymphs and deutonymphs that have avoided previous destruction develop into egg-laying adults.

Moving birds to disinfected, empty housing may make it easier to deal with an infestation. 

Many topical treatments are available to the farmer and poultry keeper; some are more environmentally friendly than others.

Diatom offers long-lasting residual control of red mites. Comprising the fossilised remains of ancient, shelled creatures, it’s safe for other animals and humans. 

Diatom breaks down the waxy outer shell of the insect, so it dehydrates and dies. Diatom can be used repeatedly in the nesting area and around the perches.

Red mites can survive for a long time without feeding, and with such a rapid lifecycle, time alone is not a solution to the problem. An empty, infested house requires prolonged and repeated treatment before reintroducing birds.

Importantly, using ‘spot-on’ treatment products on the birds is prohibited under the Small Animal Exemption Scheme (SAES).

Sometimes, a vet can prescribe medication under the Cascade scheme, but there will be a withdrawal period for any eggs intended for human consumption. This is usually only an option for hobby poultry keepers with limited numbers.

The best way to control red mites is by using proper disinfection and cleaning routines and regular monitoring to keep the insect population at an acceptable level.

Red Mite Prevention

As with many aspects of poultry care, prevention is always better than cure, and where red mite is concerned, this comes in the form of good husbandry.

A spotless coup will keep mites and other unwanted nasties at bay. Clean and disinfect the coup when it’s unoccupied and regularly remove dirt and manure when the birds reside.

Treat the chicken housing and equipment regularly and check the flock for signs of predation or infestation. Red mites can survive months without feeding, so don’t assume that unused equipment or housing is parasite-free.

Poultry Shield is a safe, multi-purpose cleaner and sanitiser which works well regardless of temperature and is a proven controller of red mite infestations. The dilution rate means a little goes a long way.

Poultry Shield doesn’t contain insecticide and is bio-degradable. It is suitable for organic operations, but always check first with the Soil Association or your governing body.

Treating wooden coups with certain products annually helps preserve the timber and deter parasite infestations. Remember, old-fashioned Creosote has been banned from use since 2003.

Red mite traps monitor the insect population. These are sticky, catch insects, and help determine whether your control methods work. They also have the added benefit of reducing numbers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Causes Red Mite?

Existing populations spread red mites to other birds and can transmit via newly introduced stock. Outdoor flocks are susceptible to infestation from wild birds. 

Red mite lodges on poultry housing, so always thoroughly clean and disinfect any second-hand coups and equipment before you use them.

What Diseases Do Red Mite Carry?

Mites also carry several nasty diseases as well as causing anaemia and poor output in poultry. 

These include Fowl Pox, Newcastle Disease and Fowl Cholera—just a few more reasons to instigate proper control measures in the hen house.

Need Help with Red Mite Control? Shop Dalton!

Preventing and controlling red mites is part of effective husbandry protocols on any poultry farm and keeps flocks healthy. Regular disinfection and monitoring control the insect population at an acceptable level.

Find everything you need to control and prevent red mites at Dalton Engineering, safe and effective products that protect your flock and promote excellent output.