Bird mites: avian mite infestation - what you can do

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Bird mites: avian mite infestation - what you can do: mites

Dermanyssus gallinea, as the red mite is known in the jargon, is one of the most common parasites found not only in birds, but generally in humans and animals. The bloodsucking animals cause very itchy Stichquaddeln and can transmit diseases. Because of their typical way of life, they are difficult to combat, which is why particularly vulnerable poultry farmers should pay more attention to prevention.

This is how you recognize the red mite

Due to its small size, the red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) associated with predatory mites is barely visible to the naked eye, especially as it stays on its host only for a short period of food intake and otherwise hides in cracks or cavities. Male adult animals are about 0.6 millimeters long, females 0.7 to 0.8 millimeters are slightly larger. In addition, the females can be over a millimeter long by the blood intake. The red bird mite belongs to the arachnids and has, like all members of this class, as an adult form eight legs. Only in the larval stage mites have six legs. Typically, Dermanyssus gallinae is whitish to gray in color (and is sometimes referred to as "gray mite" for this reason), but appears red to brownish after ingestion. It is hardly distinguishable from other, similar-looking mite species by the layman.

Occurrence and habitat

The red bird mite is found all over the world. It feeds on the blood of birds and domestic fishes as well as on wild birds and wild animals. Especially chickens, pigeons and geese are attacked, but also other host animals. The bird mite does not live directly on its host animal, but in its closer environment such as in protected niches, in cracks, crevices and other small hiding places. These are often found in bird nests and in their cages (such as the perches), but also on the wall, on the floor or in feed containers.

Diet and behavior

The red mite larvae do not yet absorb blood, only the nymphs - a developmental stage above the larvae - as well as the adult animals need the blood of their mostly feathered hosts. Above all, just before moulting or oviposition, mites pick up the host animal for food intake. Preferably, the mites suck on the soft skin in the neck, around the shoulder, in the popliteal fossa and on the back. An adult mite needs about half an hour to an hour to eat.


The red mite is active from temperatures of at least 10° C, but increases very quickly, especially in warm weather between 20 and 30° C. The animals multiply rapidly, so that in protected places very large populations can accumulate. The mite is not bound to its traditional location, it can also seek out a little more remote places in search of a host. Red mite prefers to visit its host at night, but in some cases may also become active during the day. At temperatures below 10° C, the animals survive up to nine months without any food.


In typical poultry farms - for example, a chicken coop - almost ideal living conditions for red mites prevail throughout the year. Optimal conditions for survival and reproduction are found at temperatures between 20 and 30° C and an air humidity of about 70% - scientists were able to observe how an adult developed from an egg within only seven days. At temperatures between 15 and 25° C, on the other hand, it may take up to 28 days for a red bird mite to have passed through all stages of development. Each female mite lays between 30 and 100 eggs during its lifetime, with four to eight eggs per clutch. These are preferably not positioned on the hosts, but in its immediate vicinity - such as in superficial cracks and crevices. The hatching larvae do not feed on blood.

Infestation in humans

Mainly when their main hosts are not (anymore) available, red mites also sting other animals (such as pets like dogs or cats) as well as humans. Particularly endangered are persons who hold even poultry or pet birds (such as budgerigars, etc.) or work in a poultry farm. In addition, precautions should be taken as to who lives near large accumulations of feral domestic pigeons, wild pigeons or in a dense tree population (for example, near a park). This is especially true for apartments in the immediate vicinity of deserted nests. Frequent infestation of the inhabitants of penthouses, because pigeons, sparrows, swallows and other city birds like to nest directly under a house roof - with the result that the mites can get into the apartment quickly and easily. There are even reports of red-blooded mite entering the hospital via ventilation ducts.

Possible health risks due to bird mite infestation

The stings of the red mite cause severe itching in humans, it forms red pustules with a significant puncture site in the middle. The actual sting is not noticed, as the characteristic itching does not appear until hours later.By scratching secondary infections can occur, as a result of which the puncture site inflames. A transmission of pathogens such as bacteria and viruses through the mites on humans is basically possible. An infestation with the red mite is often confused with other mites or stinging bloodsuckers, since the skin reactions often do not allow a clear assignment and the animals are rarely seen.
Tip: Fowl keepers of ornamental birds can detect a suspected red mite infestation by wrapping the perches of the birds with double-sided tape. The next morning there should be small dark spots or brighter points, which can be quickly identified under a microscope as Dermanyssus gallinea.

Combat acute infestation


An acute mite infestation in the apartment you fight only by a very thorough cleaning: clothing, duvet covers and sheets, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, etc. should be washed at temperatures of more than 50° C in the washing machine. Loose items that may serve as a hiding place and can not be washed should be placed overnight in the freezer or freezer. Here, however, the animals are reliably killed only at temperatures from minus 20° C. For effective control, you should also find the source of the evil and kill the animal here with the appropriate chemical means. This includes, for example, the elimination of abandoned bird nests, such as under a gutter or in an attic. If the symptoms do not improve, you should consult a professional pest controller.
Tip: First, a cooling, soothing gel or ointment helps against the itching at a puncture site.

Preventive measures

Anyone who keeps birds should always ensure hygienic conditions in the aviary. Not only does this mean cleaning the cage or chicken coop regularly from manure, but also keeping it clean from the pores. By the way, the red mite (and other pests) is the reason chicken coops used to be "burned out" and then whitewashed. Today, biocides such as acaricides are used against mites, but they must not be used in dwellings inhabited by people.
Tip: Has a pigeon colony been evicted recently? Then special caution is required, because then countless mites go in search of a new host.

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