Red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) are blood-feeding ecto-parasites that lives in cracks and crevices in your chicken house, coming out at night to get a meal from your chickens.
Red mites are called a 'temporary ecto-parasite' because they are normally only found on the bird when feeding at night and are a serious problem for poultry keepers. They cannot fly but they crawl along perches to get to your chickens and are a very serious problem for poultry keepers during the summer months when they are active. A large infestation of red mites is serious as they make your chickens anaemic. If you don't act quickly, birds can die. Fortunately there are warning signs so people usually find out there is an infestation before it is too late.
Red mites (also called chicken mites or poultry mites) cause severe skin irritation and stress to your birds and will cause a reduction in egg numbers. They can be carried into your flock from wild birds and can transfer from bird to bird although they mainly live in housing. Mites are not species specific and will feed from any type of bird.
Red mite are hard to spot if you haven't seen them before and before you know it, they are everywhere! Once you have seen them, you will know what to look for in future and will be able to spot them easily during the weekly clean before they multiply too much.
Look for the signs of red mite close to where birds roost at night and near to nest boxes where broody hens may sit for long periods of time. If your perches are removable they are easier to spot. Once they have had a feed, they appear as clumps of red that turn to red blood when squashed. Since they feed at night, they are difficult to spot during the daytime.
Clumps of red mite found under a perch
Birds will be restless at night and will have a severe skin irritation from the biting mites. Red mites are almost white before they have fed, blood red after a feed and grey / black with partially digested blood so you will see various colours of mites. Unfortunately it usually takes several attempts to get rid of Red Mite and if they get under your roofing felt, it is usually impossible to shift them without removing and re-felting the roof.
Red mite are silent killers - so please be aware and check your coops regularly, especially during the summer time when the weather is warm as often this is the time of year when conditions are optimum for red mite infestations.
If you are still unsure, there is more detailed information on our How to Spot Red Mite page
Here are some ways that people have told us they control red mite. Some I have used myself, some I haven't so I can't say how successful they are. I have adopted a more organic approach to flock management and many of these methods rely on some fairly strong chemicals so be careful not to harm yourself or your birds if you decide to try some of these!
It is important to understand and interrupt the life cycle of the red mite in order to be successful at removing them. Read How to Kill Red Mites for further information.
Most insecticides contain permethrin which is a man made synthetic pyrethroid derived from dried flowers of the Chrysanthemum Daisy. Permethrin works as a contact insecticide that damages the nervous system of the insect. It is an effective insecticide and has a low toxicity in mammals. Most products containing permethrin come in powder form for dusting bedding and perches. They remain active for some time but do need to be reapplied after cleaning the house / bedding out.
Liquid red mite treatments are useful since they will run into the cracks and crevices. They can also be sprayed into difficult to reach areas. It is usually best to use a liquid for the cleaning of the house, followed by a dusting powder (concentrated on the perch ends) once the house is dry to catch mites that have been missed as they come out at night to feed.
Poultry Shield is the most popular red mite product by far. It is a multi purpose cleaner / detergent / sanitiser that is good to use for regular cleaning of the coop but is also very effective at killing red mite. It is not caustic and contains no insecticide, it simply washes the waxy coating off the mite, causing it to dehydrate and die. It is safe to use (following the manufacturer's instructions of course) and can even be used with your birds inside the house although I've never used it like this. Diatom powder is commonly bought with Poultry Shield and used for dusting around the coop and perch ends for longer lasting protection.
Smite is another popular detergent based product that is effective against red mite and their eggs as well as other parasites. It is a degreasant and cleaner that is good for removing organic matter during routine cleaning. It has a pleasant odour and has an easy to use dosing pump fitted to the top of the container. A 3-6% dilution is required which makes it economical to use.
Poultry Shield and Smite are non-toxic products that don't contain pesticides.
Red Mites: Our Top 8 Products page provides detailed information on the types of treatments available and lists the top products we have found to be effective for red mite control.
There are also some natural insecticides and deterrents that can help you with a red mite infestation, many of these can be found in products suitable for human use - anti-mosquito products for example as well as in natural / organic powders. Here is a list of some natural insecticides / deterrents that can be used to beat red mite.
Diatom powder is the most popular dusting powder and, like Poultry Shield and Smite, it is safe. Diatomaceous Earth is made of micro skeletons of fossilised remains of deceased diatoms, a type of algae so is a totally natural product. Diatom is used in organic farms. If it is dusted around the bedding and rubbed into the perches it can drastically reduce red mite numbers. Diatom has microscopically sharp edges and it works by piercing the outer waxy coating of the mite which will basically dry up (desiccate) and die after a short while. There is no chemical toxicity since diatom controls insects by physical rather than chemical means.
Other natural products that can be used include:
I have used a few of these for red mite control with success the main two being garlic and Eucalyptus. Garlic has many other health benefits as well as being a natural insecticide. It is thought that the red mite don't like the smell that comes off the skin or the taste of blood after garlic has been eaten. I crush a couple of fresh cloves into their water, or, if I'm in a hurry, I will use dried garlic granules that I buy in big bags from an equestrian shop but it can also be added to food.