The Low Down on Red Mites: How We Love to Hate Them! 😡

Updated Tuesday, March 15, 2022 (Originally published April 26, 2015)

Red mites are a very common poultry nuisance appearing each season usually in the warmer summer months. They eventually come to all poultry lovers and test our tenacity and chook keeping sanity.

Adult poultry red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae

 Light micrographs of developmental stages of poultry red mite including fed and unfed individuals. Some are brilliant white (just after moult). 

Red mites can reproduce rapidly so a few under the perch one day can turn into an infestation the next if not monitored and exterminated quickly. Surprisingly mites do not live on the birds but rather in the chook housing particularly under perches and in nesting boxes. They hide during the day and become active at night crawling onto the birds and sucking their blood. Little Vampires! Heavy mite infestations in poultry can lead to high levels of stress amongst birds and can result in anaemia, reduced egg production and, eventually if not treated, death, so being vigilant about coop health is key. Early detection is better than no detection, but the best weapon is knowledge and working to eliminating them before they ever get a leg hold!

So let’s have a look at this tiny parasite and understand a bit more about what it is, its lifecycle and how it reproduces so fast and causes our beloved chooks to suffer silently.

The chicken mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) are not breed specific and can be found on any bird. These mites are easily seen once they have had a blood meal (hence their name) and some of us might need to put our glasses on to see them! Red mites have been known to transmit diseases such as Fowl Cholera, Newcastle Disease, Fowl Typhoid and Salmonella as well as causing dermatitis and mange. They are transmitted to poultry from rodents and wild birds. So working on good pest control in your poultry area is key. Eliminating rats, mice and sparrows will go a long way to keeping your hen house mite free. Unlike the northern fowl mite, red mites only spend part of their lives on their poultry hosts. They live in cracks and crevices in the poultry housing and move onto roosting birds at night to feed. Red mites can survive away from poultry for four or more weeks and they can also infest humans (don’t panic!) They can survive for several months without a feed and have been known to lie dormant for years. When hidden in cracks, they are very resistant to desiccation – so cleaning out and leaving a house empty will not prevent mites reappearing when birds are reintroduced. Mites can be carried by wild birds and prevailing winds, so can appear even when there has been no previous evidence of infestation.

Easy-to-clean and maintain Omlet housing.

Flat, smooth plywood panels and easy to remove perches are ideal in timber housing.

Buy a Coop That is Easy to Clean

What your hen house is constructed of can make all the difference when it comes to controlling mite numbers. Smooth, flat surfaces go a long way to reducing population numbers. Avoid coops and houses built out of rough sawn, unfinished timbers, old pallets, especially tongue and groove styled timbers. Avoid insulating hen houses with wool or pink bats and any other linings. Smooth, easy to clean surfaces like plastic are great to keep clean and go a long way to making it easier to keep on top of mites.
Omlet's range of Eglu plastic hen houses and chicken coops are a very good choice as super easy to maintain and keep clean. Unlike wooden housing, you do not need to repeatedly treat your Eglu - saving you time and money. Made from energy efficient polymers using modern construction techniques, the Eglu will last for years and at the end of its life can be 100% recycled. 

Mites feed mainly on the blood of birds, but also on feathers, skin or scales; each blood feed can take up to a couple of hours after which the mites will leave the birds and return to hide in cracks and crevices in the poultry housing. Here they lay their eggs, returning to the birds again the following night. Mites are usually very active at night and once birds have settled down on perches for the night the mites are out. The birds become easy targets as cannot leave the comfort or safety of the perch in the dark for fear of injury (they are not nocturnal.) Once on the perch/es or huddling on the floor (or the nest boxes) the mites have a field day and crawl out to feast on the unsuspecting birds. The tiny mites vary in appearance, depending on when they last fed and at what stage they are in their lifecycle. The have a five stage life cycle starting with the egg and finishing as an adult within just 5 to 7 days.

Red Mites Close Up

LIFE CYCLE: Egg → Larva → Protonymph → Deutonymph → Adult

Between 12 and 24 hours after her first blood meal a fertilized adult female can lay a batch of 3 to 7 eggs in the poultry house. The eggs hatch in two to three days and the larva which do not feed, moults in a further day or so. The protonymph needs and takes a blood meal. It then moults to a deutonymph, which does not feed. The deutonymph moults to an adult stage in a couple of days. Under ideal conditions the life cycle can be completed in a week or so but, if conditions are not ideal, both the feeding stages can survive several weeks before taking a blood meal. A mite is only red when it has had a fresh blood feed. Over time it darkens and goes black before it changes colour again through black to grey as the interval between feeds lengthen. When checking housing for mite evidence mites can appear in a range of these colours and in size from tiny to bigger breeding adults. A tell-tale ‘grey residue’ around crevices is evidence of mite faeces, this can be seen during the day. But the best time to examine a house is at night when the mites can often be seen with the aid of a torch, both on and off the bird. If looking during the day a coop or house can appear mite free to the untrained eye.

Have I Got Red Mite in My Chicken Coop?

Often the first indication of red mites in your chicken coop is when you go to collect your eggs. You reach in to pick them up, and the next thing you feel is tiny things crawling on your hands and up your arms. If you look closer you will spot them on the eggs, you might even see little blood specks on the eggs.

 Next, have a good look in the nest boxes. You might notice clumps of red mites in the nesting material or in the corners of the nest box or under the rim of the nest box lid. The other key spot to check are the roosting bars or perches inside the coop. Mites will first set up camp here, where it is easier to access their feed (the chickens!) Check the ends of perches, the perch rails, under perches and in any nook, crack and cranny on the perch. Smooth perches are better at deterring mites than natural tree branches which have lots more cavities.

 Do your chickens sleep on the floor? If so, then this could be another spot. If you have birds that do not perch but rather choose to huddle down on the coop floor litter at night, then check where they sleep. The warmth of their body heat will be another draw card for red mite. If mites have spread beyond these points then the red mites have been around for a while and what you now have is a mite infestation and it is going to take a little more work to beat them. If you walk into your hen house and can see them visibly on the walls, thick like jam in the corners and literally dropping down off the ceiling onto you …then you have a bad infestation!!

If your hens start to look pale, ruffled and lethargic. Egg production drops off and your hens move out of their coop then it is most certainly caused through an infestation of red mite.

What Can I Do to Control a Red Mite Infestation?

There are different control treatments available but all involve thoroughly cleaning and treating of the hen house often with several follow up treatment/s. Getting the upper hand with a severe red mite infestation requires persistence and attention to detail, and it may involve using more than one approach. Any control programme needs to pay attention to the following:

  • Operator hygiene and suitable protective clothing to prevent the spread of red mites between sites.
  • Study the red mite life cycle – repeat treatment needs to be undertaken within seven days to maximise the effect and ‘catch’ the largest possible number of mite.
  • Efficient disposal of mite-infested litter and debris, to prevent re-infestation.
  • Sealing up of as many joints and crevices as possible, to reduce the number of areas which harbour mite. This is best done prior to an infestation.
  • Sanitizing and cleaning all equipment inside your hen house each time your treat for mites: nest boxes, feeders, drinkers etc.
  • Move your hens to another hen house or temporary  accommodation whilst you get on top of the mite infestation. If you go with this option - best to use pour-on drench on your birds and put them in a quarantine cage for 24 hours to avoid them taking any hangers on with them.
  • Constant vigilance and prompt treatment of any hotspots.
  • Use of a poultry tonic or vitamin supplement to help the birds recover and increase their resistance to re-infection.
  • Invest in an Omlet Chicken Coop for easy care maintenance.

The Two Pronged Approach

Here at Appletons we recommend the use of Appletons Poultry Safeguard together with Appletons De-Mite Powder for the treatment of red mites. Appletons Poultry Safeguard is a powerful disinfectant killing bacteria, viruses and odour in coops. It has excellent degreasing qualities and works well to dissolve the waxy coating on the mites exoskeletons slowly causing them dehydrate and die. Smite Professional and Poultry Shield are also available in-store and on-line with similar results.
Appletons De-Mite Powder works brilliantly for residual red mite control and works hand in hand with the Poultry Safeguard to do a great job in keeping the red mite population under control.

Coop Maintenance Pack

13 Easy Steps To Less Mites

  • Buy the necessary treatment/s needed and have the tools to hand.
  • Wear suitable protective clothing and a facemask.
  • Best to remove all floor litter and nesting box material.
  • Make sure the perch or perches are removable to reach all hiding places.
  • DO NOT pre-water blast your coop
  • For best results apply directly to undisturbed, dry timber in hen house.
  • Handy hint: Use a paint scrapper to slide between panels and timber joins. Works well to immediately kill mites living down 
  • SOAK ALL SURFACES: get into all nooks cracks and crannies, around hinges, under lids, roof, walls and outside to is a good idea.
  • Don't forget to remove, clean and de-mite all feeders and drinkers if you keep them in the coop.
  • Allow to air dry. Best done on a good sunny dry day!
  • Next place clean wood shavings in house and nest boxes. Use shavings sparingly as this procedure will be repeat again in 5 to 7 days. 
  • IMPORTANT: For severe outbreaks repeat at least 3+ times until you are on top of them. 
  • Follow up weekly with the Appletons De-Mite Powder and spot spray between treatments if required.

Things You Can Do To Help Your Flock 🐔

Pleasurable Relief 😊

Chickens will instinctively dust bathe to assist with parasite removal. Plus they love the pleasure a dust bathe offers them too! Add Appletons De-Mite Powder to their dust bowl + lots of lovely dry matter like sand, soil and ash. Make it an inviting spot for your chooks to hold their next social get-together!

De-Mite Powder

Eliminate Hangers On!

Red poultry mites do not usually live on your chicken but if your mite population is high they can hijack your chicken. To make your bird more comfortable we recommend using Pour-On Drench. We only recommend this opt if your hens are not laying as there is an egg withholding period on this for up to 14 days. Perfect to use on broody hens as they are not laying. This is a long lasting endectocide which kills both internal and external parasites. However it will not get to the source of the problem which is usually your hen house.

Pour-On Drench

Quick and Effective for Hard to Reach Places

Use Nettex Total Mite Kill Aerosol Spray perfect to treat hard to reach areas of the housing such as cracks and crevices.  It is a highly effective insecticidal spray for use in chicken housing against mites,  fleas and other flying and crawling insects. Long-lasting, residual action continues to work even after drying. Contains pyrethrum.

Nettex Total Mite Kill

Instant Boost for Your Hens ❤️

Poultry Mite Rescue Remedy is a liquid complementary feed designed to assist with the recovery of symptoms of a red mite attack such as lethargy and anaemia. Give your hens a boost and assist them to bounce back after a red mite infestation. Use during & after a red mite infestation. Just add to their drinking water.
Also makes an excellent all round supplement as contains just about everything they need including proteins.

Mite Rescue Remedy

Quick & Ready-To-Use

Having a bottle of Ready-To-Use Nettex Total Mite Kill handy is always good. Regularly check your hen house for areas that might need a midweek spot spray. This product does not require rinsing off. Leave to dry fully (at least two hours) before returning birds to housing. Especially target perches and  nesting boxes.

Nettec Ready To use Spray

Dust DE for Residual Control

We recommend regular dusting with Appletons De-Mite Powder to keep perches and nesting boxes MITE FREE and if this becomes part of a regular weekly routine then mites should never become an issue. Our handy powder applicator makes application easier.

De-Mite PowderPowder Applicator

Eradicates Pests Physically not Chemically

Apply RX For Parasites to nesting boxes and poultry bedding. The uniquely sized particles pass through the exoskeleton blocking the stomach tract and simply dehydrates. The pest can not build an immunity to the product therefore it works long term.  DO NOT apply directly to animals.

RX for Parasites

Protect Yourself 😷

Wearing a facemask is essential when cleaning your hen house or chicken coop. Avoid fine dust particles and chicken dander from entering your airways.

Face masks

Remember, Prevention is Better than Cure!

The best way to keep on top of them is with regular coop maintenance. Check your coop weekly. Dust weekly with De-Mite Powder on perches and in nest boxes. Regularly give your chicken coop or hen house a thorough (deep) clean. Most of all be observant. Worm and check birds for external parasites on a regular basis.

However, if detection goes unnoticed, or you do not know what you are looking for, or your life just gets too busy …. then you one day you mite be surprised!!
 Prevention is honestly the easier option 😉

Go and check your hen house now just to be sure!

Invest in an Omlet Eglu Chicken Coop for Easy Maintenance and Reduced Mites.

Buy now