What are red mites?

Red mites are ectoparasites, meaning they do not live inside the host, but feed by clinging to the skin.

Dermanyssus gallinae is the scientific name for the common red spider mite, a species of parasitic mite that feeds by sucking the blood of birds. These mites can affect any species of bird, including domestic animals. Birds, however, especially chickens and turkeys, seem to be the parasites’ favorite prey. Due to their preference for birds, they can sometimes be called red mite or chicken mite. Sometimes the term red mite can also be used to refer to other red-looking mite species, such as the European red mite.

Chicken mites hide in cages.

Red mites are ectoparasites, meaning they do not live inside the host, but feed by clinging to the skin. In fact, these mites spend most of their time separated from their host and can survive months without feeding. Chicken mites tend to hide in bird nests or along cracks and crevices in chicken coops, cages, and other structures. If there are red mites in the house, they can get into the carpet, furniture and bedding, pretty much any dark area where they can avoid sunlight. At night, these nocturnal mites come out to suck the host’s blood and then hide again, mating and laying eggs.

Although red mites prefer to feed on birds, they sometimes bite humans.

Typically measuring between 0.02 to 0.04 of an inch (approximately 0.5 to 1 millimeter) in length, red mites can be barely visible to the naked eye as specks of moving dirt. Most of the time, however, they may not be identifiable without magnification, as they often appear dull until after feeding. Once filled with blood, these mites will have a bright red appearance.

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Mites usually feed for less than an hour at a time and typically only need to feed several times a week. The blood they ingest is necessary for reproduction, and 24 hours after the first feeding, an adult female red mite is ready to lay eggs. The life cycle of red mites, from egg to adulthood, can be completed in less than a week, which means that red mite populations can grow rapidly when control measures are not used.

Birds being bitten by some red mites may appear restless and can be seen trying to rub or scratch skin irritations. When the infestation is large, however, weight loss can occur and the birds can become anemic due to the large amount of blood lost in mite bites. In chickens, a drop in egg production can also occur. For young birds, the infestation can be fatal. While not considered likely, it is also likely that these mites can transmit disease to their avian hosts.

One way to determine if a red mite infestation is occurring is to hang a piece of white cloth or sheet over a cage at night. The next morning, the material can be inspected for mites. As they are likely to have fed recently, they should appear as small red spots. Mite feces can also be identifiable as small black spots.

While it is not possible for these biting mites to reproduce when they feed on non-avian hosts, they can feed on mammals, including humans. This is typically only a problem for poultry farmers or others who work and live near infested birds. When mites feed on nesting birds, however, they can become more nuisance. Once these birds mature and leave the nest, these mites may seek out alternative hosts by invading nearby homes or other buildings.

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As red mites are healthy and tend to adapt to virtually any environment, red mite elimination and control should be done as soon as the mites are identified. Typically, the affected birds and their environment need treatment. After the birds are removed, the aviaries and cages usually need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. A steam washer or pressure washer can also be useful to clean any crevices or cracks where mites are hiding and make sure they are washed away. The use of miticides, pesticides specifically designed to kill mites, can also be used for regular treatment and prevention once the mites are eradicated.

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