Poultry mite can be a serious problem to poultry keepers if not detected early enough. Poultry mites feed on fowl blood and can rapidly cause heavy losses owing to their very short lifecycle which allow quick multiplication and heavy infestations. Birds become badly anaemic and fall ill or get infections caused by bacteria and viruses.
These bacteria and viruses can also be passed on to poultry keepers infecting them with dangerous diseases. The mite also causes blood spotting on eggs, making them unfit for sale.
While there are many species of poultry mites, many of these species are identical and readily infect birds. Mites are very small rounded shaped arachnids just visible without magnification. They are wingless and adults have eight legs without any obvious segmentation.
The lifecycle varies from 1 – 5 weeks. Eggs are laid on the host and hatch in a few days. The larvae moult once, twice or thrice depending on species in a further few days. One female may lay up to 90 eggs in her life. All eggs are laid on one host except Dermanyssus gallinae whose eggs are laid in suitable cracks or crevices and to which the nymph retreat to the birds to moult between blood meals. With such a short life cycle enormous population can be built up quite rapidly.
Mites are able to live away from the host bird for a sometime but cannot survive for long. This way they can be transferred between flocks through poultry handling equipment like crates, or clothing, wild birds and rodents.
The presence of mites is indicated by itching, irritation of the skin and dermatitis in various forms. Three types of poultry mites are of special importance.
Also referred to as gray mites and roost mites, the red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae ) is about 1.5mm long. It is a nocturnal mite that sucks the blood (turning its color to red) from the birds at night and hides in cracks and crevices on the roosts, walls, ceiling, and floors, under clods of dirt or manure or in nests during the day. Hens setting on eggs may be attacked during daytime. The lifecycle takes a minimum of 10 days, and there can be a massive build up leading to death through loss of blood in affected birds. Laying birds may refuse to lay in nests that are infested with red mites.
Often found in small, non-commercial poultry flocks they are most prevalent in breeder operations or poultry houses where birds are maintained on litter or have nest boxes. They have a preference for chickens as their host, but also attacks pigeons, cage birds and wild birds. They are known to carry Borelina anserine, the cause of spirochaetosis and also been known to carry the virus that causes equine encephalomyletis.
Liponyssus bursa also called Ornithonyssus bursa lives on blood of chicken, turkey, pheasants and other birds in many parts of the tropics. However, these mites can live away from the host bird. It attacks humans but cannot survive more than 10 days away from birds. They are commonly spread through bird-to-bird contact and can be found on birds during daytime as well as at night in caged layer facilities and on range turkeys.
Most part of the life cycle which is usually less than one week, is spent on the host. Eggs are laid on the host or in the nest and hatch within 24 hours. Both eggs and mites are found in the fluff of the feathers, mainly near the vent. Infestation is usually patchy, a few feathers carrying hundreds of mites, while adjacent feathers are almost free. They suck blood thereby causing anemia in birds that are highly infested.
The scaly leg mite (Knemidocoptes mutans) primarily remains on the host for its entire life cycle burrowing in scaled skin of feet and shanks of birds. Older birds are more vulnerable. Birds contact the pest through prolonged direct contact with infested birds and environs.
Birds exhibit brittle, flaky or powdery appearance on the legs.
Correct identification of the specific mite is important in selecting the appropriate treatment and control methods.
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