Suppression of Arthropod Pests on Small Flocks of Domestic Fowl in Texas - Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University - Extension Publications
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Sep 2004

Suppression of Arthropod Pests on Small Flocks of Domestic Fowl in Texas

Jeffery K. Tomberlin and Greta L. Schuster
Extension Entomologists, Texas Cooperative Extension

Small flocks of domestic fowl are common on many Texas farms (Figure 1). Domestic fowl flocks can be diverse and may include chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Flocks range in size from a few animals to several hundred and may be either kept in confined housing or allowed to roam and forage. Fowl offer many benefits, such as providing food (i.e. meat and eggs) and some degree of pest control against grasshoppers and other insects.

Unfortunately, domestic birds that are allowed to roam freely may come in contact with wild fowl and often become infested with parasitic and nuisance arthropod pests. These pests affect the domestic and wild birds by feeding on them and having the potential to transmit a variety of pathogens.

small farm fowl

Figure 1. Example of small farm fowl.

The most successful approach for suppression of arthropod pests on flocks of domestic birds relies on an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. A complete IPM approach strives to make use of a variety of control strategies including cultural, biological, and chemical methods.

Cultural methods primarily revolve around sanitation, such as:

Biological control methods rely on natural enemies to reduce pest populations. Unfortunately, at this time there are few practical biological control tactics for arthropod pests of domestic fowl.

Chemical control methods use insecticides, larvacides, or acaricides to suppress or eliminate arthropod pests. Many of the available compounds are listed in Table 1.

Unfortunately, none of the individual approaches previously discussed will completely remove the arthropod pests. Therefore, in order to maximize suppression of these arthropod pests with minimum financial input, it is important to use a complete IPM approach.



Mites are small and difficult to see with the “naked-eye.” Adult mites have eight legs and are more closely related to spiders than insects. Several mite species are known to colonize domesticated birds.

Northern fowl mites , Ornithonyssus sylviarum, are considered to be the most economically important arthropod pests of commercial fowl. Some facts about this species are:

Northern fowl mite infestations can result in anemia, reduced food intake, weight loss, reduced egg production, and even death.

Feathers of infested birds appears matted due to buildup of dried blood or mite feces. Matted feathers around the vent (anal region) of birds are diagnostic of infestations If an animal is found to be infested, they should be isolated from other birds to avoid spread of mites. Also, all debris from known nesting sites should be removed and treated with an insecticide. If not cleaned and treated, such sites will serve as a reservoir and re-infestation can occur. Fowl mites may bite people handling infested birds, but they will not live on humans.

Many insecticides are available for suppressing northern fowl mite populations (Table 1). Liquid insecticides should be applied to each bird with a sprayer set at 100 to 125 psi. Failure to apply at this rate or higher will prevent the insecticide from penetrating the feathers. Dusts can also be used for suppressing northern fowl mites. If using a dust, such as Sevin ® , place individual contaminated birds in a garbage bag with the bird's head out of the bag and shake or rotate the bird and bag to completely cover the bird with the dust. Birds can also be dipped in a sulfur-soap mixture (2 oz sulfur, 1 oz soap per gallon water) for controlling this pest. When using an insecticide, there is often a required waiting period between treating and slaughtering. Be sure to read and follow all label directions carefully to avoid illegal pesticide residues on birds.

Chicken mites , Dermanyssus gallinae , look similar to northern fowl mites; however chicken mites differ in several key ways:

Heavy infestations of the chicken mite can result in reduced egg production, weight gain, food uptake, and increased susceptibility to disease. Symptoms of infestation include loss of, or darkening of, the feathers on white-feathered birds due mite feces; and scabs on the skin near the vent, and pale combs and wattles.

Control methods for the chicken mite are similar to those described for the northern fowl mite. Sanitation is the key for suppressing chicken mite populations. Periodically, remove accumulated feathers in animal housing facilities, and inspect animals frequently for signs of infestation. Isolate and treat all infested animals. Chemicals used for controlling the northern fowl mite (Table 1) will also suppress the chicken mite.

Scaley-leg mites , Knemidokoptes jamaicensis , are commonly known to infest domestic and wild fowl. These mites:

In addition to infesting more common domestic fowl, scaley-leg mites can also be found on the legs of canaries. Infestations on canaries are commonly referred to as “Tassle foot.”

Infestations by this mite are irritating and will result in the bird scratching its legs. Scratching can lead to scabbing and scales be removed, rotting of the toes, and joint problems.

Weekly treatment of the legs of an infested bird with mineral oil or petroleum-based jelly will suffocate the mites. Approved insecticides, such as those discussed for the northern fowl mite and the chicken mite, will also work


Ticks are soft-bodied, blood-feeding arachnids, related to mites and spiders. After feeding, ticks leave their host and “conceal themselves in the floors and walls of the housing near to or some distance from the host.”

The common fowl tick, Argas radiatus , (“blue bugs”) feeds principally on birds and is distinct from the most common ticks found on dogs. Fowl ticks are:

Control measures for ticks are similar to those used for mites.


Lice are insects. They are classified into two groups, blood-sucking or chewing. Those commonly associated with fowl belong to the chewing group. Control is accomplished using similar methods previously described for mites and ticks.

Chicken body lice , Menacanthus stramineus , are the most frequently encountered and the most economically destructive lice on chickens. The chicken body louse:

Shaft lice , Menopon gallinae , and wing lice , Lipeurus caponis :

Wing lice, Lipeurus caponis , are similar to those lice species previously described. However, wing lice develop more slowly, requiring 35 days to grow from egg to adult stage. Treatments used for suppressing other lice will also work for wing lice.

Chicken head lice , Cuclutogaster heterographus , are primarily a pest on young birds. They occur on the base of the feathers on the animal's head and are transmitted through contact.


Fleas are considered an occasional pest in most flocks. Biting of handlers can be the first sign of infestation. The life cycles of fowl-infesting fleas vary from two weeks to eight months.

Stick-tight fleas , Echidnophaga gallinacean , are about ½ the size of cat or dog fleas and cluster around the eyes, combs, and wattles. These fleas do not jump like most fleas but are burrowing and stationary.

Birds infested with these insects will exhibit skin irritations and ulcerations, leading to blindness under severe infestations.

Control is accomplished by raising bird cages at least 3 feet above the ground will reduce populations. Dusting litter and facilities with carbaryl (Sevin ® ) dust will reduce flea populations.


Flies are major pests around manure and spilled feed. Decaying organic material with high moisture content serves as breeding sites for flies. Generally, all fly species have a complete life cycle, including the egg, larva, pupa, and adult life stages.

House flies, Musca domestica :

Lesser houseflies, Fannia canicularis , are similar to the house fly but smaller. They too, are also considered a nuisance. This fly:

Black garbage flies, Hydrotaea aenescens , can be beneficial because they kill house fly larvae and dominate manure habitat.  Their life cycle ranges from 14-45 days.

Blowflies, Calliphorid sp., have a metallic appearance in the adult stage and are rarely considered pestiferous. These flies:

Acceptable levels of fly suppression under most conditions can be achieved with proper sanitation. Good management practices should include limiting moisture in feces, spilt feed, and dead birds, while mechanical control includes fly traps. These traps can be either sticky, contain attractants, or electric. Traps should be supplemented with other control measures when larger populations develop. The use of insecticides should be supplemental to other management strategies. Prolonged, repeated use of insecticides may result in poor control of the flies.


The lesser meal worm or darkling beetle , Alphitobius diaperinus , (the lesser mealworm) and hide beetle, Dermestes maculates , can potentially cause structural damage to homes and facilities. Immature beetles seeking pupation sites will bore posts rafters, foam insulation, drywall, and paneling. Ironically, these beetles can also be beneficial in some respects. Their burrowing in manure can resulting in increased aeration and faster drying of the manure. Alphitobius diaperinus has been shown to transmit leucosis (Marek's disease) to chickens. Birds 3 to 4 months old are most affected with symptoms ranging from lethargy to paralysis.

Control of these beetles is achieved through IPM with an emphasis on sanitation, such as:


Controlling external pests and/or parasites is essential to maintaining healthy fowl. It is important to properly identify pests prior to selecting methods for their suppression. Integration of several pest management tactics, IPM, will result in effective and economical pest suppression. This approach protects the health of small flocks or domestic birds and reduces the occurrence and severity of nuisance pests.


The authors would like to thank M. Merchant and C. Allen with the Department of Entomology, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University and L. Tomberlin for their helpful comments on this manuscript

Table 1. Insecticides available for suppressing lice, ticks, fleas, and mites on small flocks of domestic fowl in Texas.


Application Rate

Days to Slaughter


Co-Ral 25% WP

Countdown 20 WP

Ectiban 5.7% EC

Permectrin II 10% EC

Rabon 50% WP (stirofos)

Rabon 3% D

Sevin 80% SP

Sevin 5% D

Rabon 50% WP (stirofos)

3 to 6 oz per 5 gal water, use high rate for lice, low rate for mites

2 scoops /1,000 sq ft

1 qt/25 gal water

1 qt/50 gal water

6-1/2 oz/5 gal water Use 1 gal/100 birds

1 lb/300 birds

4 oz/5 gal water
Use 1 gal/100 birds

1 lb/100 birds

6-1/2 oz/5 gal water 1-2 gal/1000 sq ft OR Dust 2-1/2 oz/100 sq ft

0 days

Not applicable

0 days

0 days

0 days

0 days

7 days

7 days

0 days

Do not treat within 10 days of vaccination or stress

Apply to walls

Retreatment may be needed in 4-12 weeks

Retreatment may be needed in 4-12 weeks

Do not treat more than once every 14 days.

Do not treat more than once every 14 days. 

Thorough coverage and feather penetration is essential.

Do not treat more than once every 4 weeks.

Do not treat more than every 14 days.  Treat litter thoroughly.

Sevin 80% SP

Sevin 80% SP

Duratrol 20% EC



Optem 20% WP or 2 L

Grenade WP


Larvadex 2 SL

Pyri-Shield 1.3 EC

6.5/lbs/100 gal water

5 lb/100 gal
Use 1 to 2 gal per 1,000 sq ft

See label

See label

See label

See label

0.2 oz/gal water

1 lb/ton of feed

1 lb/ton of feed

1 fl oz/gal

1 gal/1,000 to 1,500 sq ft

7 days

7 days

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Not applicable

Use 1-2 gals of spray per 1,000 sq ft.

Apply thoroughly to walls, litter and roost surfaces, especially cracks and crevices.

Surface treatment only.  DO NOT use as a space spray.

Remove birds from building prior to treatment of interior surfaces.

Remove birds from building prior to treatment of interior surfaces.

Remove birds from building prior to treatment of interior surfaces.

See cyfluthrin.

Approved as a manure treatment for broiler breeders and caged layers only.  Feed continuously for 4 to 6 weeks.  Follow label directions.

Approved as a manure treatment for broiler breeders and caged layers only.  Feed continuously for 4 to 6 weeks.  Follow label directions.

This slow-acting insect growth regulator is most effective when used in combination with other insecticides.