Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are one of the external parasites that target birds and feed on their blood for survival. This type of mite is very common in indoor aviaries, and it is a source of concern for both breeders and birds. As a breeder, you need to take serious steps to control and eradicate them.
In this article, you discover everything you need to know about red mites: their characteristics, how to spot them and get rid of them and prevent them from infiltrating your aviary, and more.
What are the characteristics of red mites?
Red mites are grey in color but they turn red when they eat their bloody dinner. The mouth contains serrated parts that are used to suck blood through the skin.
During the day, they hide in dark places such as cracks and crevices, and they appear only at night to feed on the blood of birds. They can also be found hiding at the tip of the perches or under the cage floor if it is covered with a piece of paper or cloth. But their favorite hiding spot is the nest because it is warm, dark, and close to the victim.
Unlike feather mites, red mites don’t reproduce on the body of the victim, but rather in cracks and crevices where they dwell. Studies have shown that red mites’ eggs need only 48 to 72 hours to hatch in warm conditions. Other studies have concluded that red mites can complete a full life cycle in a week or less. Their numbers also double in a period of approximately 6 days when the temperature reaches 25 ° C (the more the temperature, the more the reproduction and vice versa). They thrive in humid and hot conditions.
Red mites can live for 8 months without food and can withstand cold weather, but stop reproducing when the temperature is low, and they die at a temperature below minus 20 ° C or plus 45 ° C.
What damages might red mites inflict upon the birds?
The level of damage depends on the number of mites living at the breeding site. Red mites can cause the following:
- Anemia and transmission of diseases such as salmonella, avian pox, and Newcastle.
- Sleep deprivation and weight loss
- Stress, inconvenience, and feather damage
- Reduction in egg production and stunt growth in chicks
- Nest abandonment
- Death in severe and chronic cases
How to spot them in the aviary?
One can spot red mites in the aviary during the night by holding the bird by hand to examine the feathers. It is easy to spot the insects running on the bird’s feathers, and sometimes they will be seen roaming on the inspector’s hand.
If you don’t detect them, leave a folded piece of white cloth on the floor of the cage or aviary, and examine it the next day. During the day, inspect the tip of all perches as it is a commonplace where red mites live in caged birds. During the breeding season, you should inspect the nest for the presence of mites when possible.
How to get rid of red mites?
Because of their rapid reproduction and explosive spread, especially in the summer, it can be difficult to get rid of them. In case of an outbreak, the best option is to abandon the aviary and move the birds to a new and remote location. If this isn’t an option or if the new breeding site is close to the old one, you can take the following steps to eradicate them:
- Place all birds in a temporary residence and leave any physical items such as cages and furniture behind.
- Close all the holes and cracks in the aviary.
- Wash all furniture, cages, and all their accessories in boiling water to kill any mites. Make sure the hot water reaches every crack and hole that may exist in the cages or furniture.
- Spray a solution intended to kill mites in every corner and inch and single inch in the aviary.
Taking these steps should kill the existing mites, but may leave surviving mites or eggs. Therefore, it is necessary to repeat these steps again after 5 days and once more after 7 days.
However, it is not possible to follow the steps aforementioned during the breeding season. In this case, you can only try to control the spread and protect the nests until the breeding season ends. Having said that, your primary objective here is to expel the mites outside the aviary. I discuss how in the next section.
You should also aim to prevent mites from penetrating the nests. This can be done by adding an anti-mites powder inside the nest before females lay eggs. You can also apply Vaseline around the nest to trap any mites that try to make it through.
Can I use a natural remedy to repel and control mites?
- An Iranian study conducted in 2010 that garlic extracts were effective in expelling red mites with a success rate of 96% after two successive sprays, one each week.
- Another study conducted in 2010 on 11 different essential oils (Sweet basil, Common juniper, Atlas cedar, Coriander, Blue gum, European silver fir, lavender, Lemon, Peppermint, Scots pine, Summer savory) to measure their effectiveness in expelling red mites, and it found that peppermint, coriander, and sweet basil were the most effective.
- A study in 2015 also tested the effectiveness of 10 essential oils (basil, thyme, coriander, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, fir tree, oregano, mint, and juniper). It concluded that thyme and lavender were the most effective.
Available treatments on the market
Anti-mites solutions come in many forms. One common form is liquid. Some liquid solutions contain pyrethrin extracted from the pyrethrum flower. The rose is picked up, dried, grounded, and then dissolved in water, It becomes a spray solution against mites and insects. It is safe to use and relatively non-toxic, and doesn’t pose a risk to humans and birds if used properly.
It is manufactured and sold for gardens to protect plants from insects, but some products are mixed with other chemicals to increase effectiveness. There are also pyrethrum products intended for topical use on birds that are sold in pet shops.
Another popular liquid form is ivermectin. It is normally used topically on the bird skin. It kills many parasites that live internally inside the bird’s body and externally on the bird’s body.
Other forms include powders. They are also widely available on the market and come in different concentrations. Read instructions or consult your vet before use.
How to prevent Dermanyssus gallinae from infiltrating the aviary?
- Don’t introduce used cages to the aviary before rinsing them with hot water.
- Don’t introduce a new bird to the aviary before undergoing a 30-day quarantine and treating him with anti-mites powder.
- If you visit other aviaries, don’t enter your own before changing your clothes (your clothes may carry mites, too!).
Can red mites feed on human blood?
Red mites don’t normally target humans. However, The Merck Veterinary Manual lists red mites as zoonotic. This means they can feed on human blood. In 2010, red mites targeted a family of three, leaving behind a rash and itching all over the body, with increased itching when scratching the affected skin area.
Also, a study posed a question titled, should poultry red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) be a wider concern for veterinary and medical science? The study concluded that red mites possess the ability of expansion outside the range of birds, and in light of the increase in the world population and the number of humans who come in close contact with animals, the problem may get worse.
- Dermanyssus gallinae mite” by AW is licensed under Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license“
- Wang, Chuanwen, et al. “Darkness increases the population growth rate of the poultry red mite Dermanyssus gallinae.” Parasites & Vectors, vol. 12, no. 1, 2019, p. NA. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 2 Aug. 2020.
- Flochlay, Annie & Thomas, Emmanuel & Sparagano, Olivier. (2017). Poultry red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) infestation: A broad impact parasitological disease that still remains a significant challenge for the egg-laying industry in Europe. Parasites & Vectors. 10. 10.1186/s13071-017-2292-4.
- Sparagano OA, George DR, Harrington DW, Giangaspero A. Significance and control of the poultry red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae. Annu Rev Entomol. 2014;59:447-466. doi:10.1146/annurev-ento-011613-162101
- Omar Abusalem (2018), red mites treatment & prevention, birdbud.com.