|Other names||Red mite, poultry mite, red poultry mite, roost mite, chicken mite|
|Female Dermanyssus gallinae with "stiletto-shaped mandibles"|
|Specialty||Veterinary medicine, Infectious disease|
Dermanyssus gallinae (also known as the red mite) is an ectoparasite of poultry and has been implicated as a vector of several major pathogenic diseases. Despite its common names, it has a wide range of hosts including several species of wild birds and mammals including humans. In both size and appearance, it resembles the northern fowl mite, Ornithonyssus sylviarum.
Signs and symptoms
(De Geer, 1778)
D. gallinae is an obligate blood feeder that will normally attack its host at night, but will occasionally feed during the day. Adults (0.75–1 mm long) have long legs and usually a grayish- white body, which becomes reddish-brown when engorged. After feeding, they hide in cracks and crevices away from light sources, where they mate and lay eggs. The mite progresses through 5 life stages: egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph and adult. Under favourable conditions this life cycle can be completed within seven days, so populations can grow rapidly - causing anaemia in badly affected flocks of poultry. Young birds are most susceptible. The mites can also affect the health of the birds indirectly, as they may serve as vectors for diseases such as Salmonellosis, avian spirochaetosis and Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. Red mites can survive for up to 10 months in an empty hen house, temperatures greater than 45 °C/113 °F and less than -20 °C/-4 °F, have been found to be lethal.
A presumptive diagnosis can be made in flocks of laying hens, usually based on a history of decreasing egg production, anaemia and mortalities in young or ill birds. Blood spots on eggs indicate infestation within the cloaca of an affected hen. Definitive diagnosis is only achieved following identification of eggs, feces or the mites themselves.
Prevention and treatment
There are several methods for preventing infestation in hen houses including:
- Heating the henhouse to temperatures above 55 °C (131 °F).
- Regular washing down of the housing system.
- Treatment of the walls and floors with silica dust or carbolineum prior to introduction of the new hens.
Predatory mites such as Androlaelaps casalis and Hypoaspis miles can be used to control D. gallinae populations. Ectoparasiticides can be used to treat affected poultry, these chemical controls, if used, should be used in rotation to avoid the buildup of resistance. The insecticide spinosad is effective against mites resistant to the veteran acaricides and can even be used on premises in the presence of the laying hens. A novel product, Exzolt was introduced in the EU in 2017, it contains fluralaner, an isoxazoline, and is highly effective against D. gallinae, included those resistant to old acaricides. It is approved for oral administration mixed with the drinking water and has a systemic mode of action, i.e. it acts through the blood of the treated birds.
Elimination of an infestation in a human habitation is best achieved through a combination of eliminating potential vectors (nesting pigeons, backyard poultry, etc.); reducing potential hiding places (rugs, clutter); judicious use of pesticides; consistent use of dehumidifiers to maintain a low humidity environment; maintaining a low temperature in the environment; frequent thorough cleaning; minimizing the amount of time spent in the home; and maintaining excellent hygiene. Treatment of infestation may require topical and oral medication such as ivermectin (although this has been found to be ineffective) and may require several months to eradicate.
Vaccines are currently under active development for the treatment of poultry, which seek to "stimulate a protective response" in the birds and increase D. gallinae mortality.
D. gallinae will also bite mammals, including cats, dogs, rodents, rabbits, horses, and humans, where the infestation is known as gamasoidosis. As they are capable of digesting mammalian including human blood, infestations can be persistent. Due to the nocturnal feeding habits of D. gallinae, people bitten by commonly feel itchy and notice bites when they wake up in the morning. The severity of the signs vary, with dermatitis, pruritus and papular urticaria being common symptoms.
Jane Ishka recited her experience with human mite infestation in her book The Year of the Mite.
Infestation by D. gallinae is rare in cats and dogs; usually the extremities and the back are bitten, causing itching.
Immature form Nymph I of Dermanyssus gallinae by A.C. Oudemans
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- Ishka, Jane (2016). The Year of the Mite. Bitingduck Press. ISBN 9781938463433.[page needed]
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- Red Mite Guide on poultrykeeper.com, A comprehensive guide to identifying and controlling red mite, including life cycle diagram, photos and FAQs.
- Red Mite Page on keeping-chickens.me.uk, Photographs of typical red mite infestations including macro photograph in backyard poultry coops
- Red Mite infestation in houses Infestation is not limited to chicken coops.
- Red Mite Information on Accidental Smallholder and close up photos for smallholders and backyard chicken keepers.
- Dermanyssus gallinae, at WikiVet