Copy of feather mite2 Feather Mite in a feather follicle.

Parasites in poultry are the worst nightmare of any poultry keeper.

By the time you have noticed that there is a problem it is probably already very serious if not too late to save your bird, because infestations occur very quickly.

There are various types of poultry parasites and more seem to appear every day!I will try to shed light on some of the most common starting with internal parasites:



These are round worms and occur in chicken or turkey. Adults are about one and a half to three inches long and the size of a pencil lead. They can be seen with the naked eye. Heavily infected birds are lethargic, emaciated and may have constant diarrhea. Feed conversion in broilers is virtually nil, and death sometimes occurs in extreme case. Worms sometimes wander up the intestinal tract into the oviduct and worms are seen in the egg. This is an extreme case, and should your hens be laying eggs with worms I would be very concerned!

Females of this species of worm, lay thick heavy shelled eggs in the intestine and these pass out through the faeces. Worms will be visible in the droppings. A small embryo develops in the egg but does not hatch immediately. Larvae in the egg reach infective stage at two to three weeks. Embryonated eggs are extremely hardy and can live in laboratory conditions up to 2 years.

Birds become infected by eating eggs that have reached the infective stage. Unfortunately disinfectants do not kill these eggs.

Drug treatments such as Ivermectin are usually very efficient in destroying the adult parasite and a treated bird will drop a load of worms within 15 minutes of being treated with this parasitic remedy. You will see spaghetti like long worms in the faeces. Unfortunately, the immature form of the parasite causes more damage and it is advisable to alternate drug treatments between Ivermectin and drugs containing PIPERAZINE or  FLUMETHRIN  (TRAMISOL).

If birds are treated every three months, and are monitored carefully, worms will not be a problem. Note that PIPERAZINE is only effective for round worms and has little effect on other parasites whereas  IVERMECTIN injectable or oral takes care of internal and external parasites in one application.

Adult birds will not be as susceptible to this worm as youngsters.


These are found in the ceca of the bird, turkeys and wild birds as well. Worms are small, white and a half inch in length.

Birds are not especially adversely affected by these parasites, but they have been known to carry blackhead causing agents, a protozoan parasite that is carried within cecal worm eggs and are transmitted from bird to bird through this egg.

Eggs are produced in the ceca and pass in the faeces. They reach infective stage in two weeks, longer in cool weather. You can treat this infestation with FENBENZADOLE  (TRAMISOL).

This is why it is so important to keep chickens and turkeys separate, so as to prevent the spread of blackhead.


There are several species of capillaria that infect chickens, some occur in the crop and oesophagus, and others infect the intestinal tract. The first infection causes thickening of the mucosa in the throat and cause severe losses in turkeys and game birds.

Capillaria  also make their way into the oesophagus and from there to the nasal cavities and then to the eyes, causing long thread like worms to infest   the conjunctival membranes of the birds. If you have seen this then you are not a very good poultry keeper because it takes a long while for the worms to get this bad. If you dose for worms regularly you will never see eye worms or worms in the egg box or even as I have seen from some one else’s birds, a worm INSIDE the yolk, still alive too! Capillaria are very long and very thin, unlike round worms which tend to be shorter and thicker.

In the second type of infection, the worms may be embedded in the intestinal lining of the birds. Eggs are laid and passed in the droppings. There has been scientific proof that cockroaches are an intermediate host to these parasites. Embryonation occurs in six to eight days and eggs are infective to any bird that eats them. The most severe damage occurs within 2 weeks of infection. Inflammation and haemorrhage are common.

Deep litter houses are more at risk of this parasite, and sometimes the infestation is only picked up during a necropsy as the eggs are too small to see with the naked eye.

Fenbenzadole and levamisole are the treatment of choice.


Tapeworms or cestodes are flattened ribbon shaped worms composed of various segments. They vary in length from very small to several inches. The head is much smaller than the body. Often a necropsy is needed to establish the presence of tape worm.

Tape worms spend part of their life cycle in intermediate hosts, such as snails, slugs, beetles, grasshoppers, earthworms, houseflies and others. Earthworms are especially good hosts. These insects become infected by eating eggs in bird faeces, and the birds eat the intermediate host and become infected in turn.

Regular treatment with deworming medication such as fenbenzadole or leviamisole is indicated.

Eye Worms

Primary species: Oxyspirura mansoni

Location: Under the nictitating membrane of the eye and in the naso-lachrymal duct.

Symptoms: Scratching of the eyes; can cause blindness.

Treatment: Physical removal of worm using local anaesthetic.

Let me say before you watch the video which is quite revolting, that I have had birds for over 25 years, have always dewormed regularly, and have never had eye worms. I have had eye infections which can become very painful, with a swollen eye and a hard ball of pus that you need to remove from the eye, but this was not eye worms. There is confusion on this point and people think that as soon as a bird has a swollen eye, it has eye worms. This is rarely the case, unless you NEVER deworm your birds. I suspect that the eye worms seen in this video are plain capillaria that have been allowed to go unchecked and have travelled up the oesophagus to inhabit the conjunctival membranes and the nasal passages. Be warned, deworm every three months.


These are round red worms that attach to the trachea especially in young birds, causing the birds to ‘gape’ as they try to eject the worms and battle to breathe. Severe infestations cause death by suffocation.

Worms are  “Y” shaped as male and female are permanently joined. The female is the larger of the two, being about a quarter inch long. Both male and female attach to the lining of the trachea with their mouths. Birds are infected when they eat embryonated worm eggs or earthworms containing the gapeworm larvae.

Please note that deworming the parent stock before breeding does prevent this type of infection from spreading to the babies, providing the very young chicks are not exposed to the outside.

The female worm lays her eggs in the trachea and the eggs are coughed up, swallowed and passed out in the faeces. Eggs embryonate within 12 to 14 days. They are then infective if eaten by  birds or earthworms.

Gapeworms can remain infective within an earthworm for many months . When consumed, the larvae hatch in the intestine and migrate back up to the trachea, and lungs.

Also known as lung worm this parasite is a pest that seems to live side by side with wild birds, especially guinea fowls, hence the wisdom of NEVER raising guinea fowl and chickens together. The lung worm does not affect the guinea fowl at all but is deadly to young chicks.It is wise to give your pens a rest after each breeding season, to rid the soil of all these parasites, and tilling the soil and growing plants such as wheat or barley in that soil kills off a lot of these pests.

Hadidahs or brown ibis are also carriers of these parasites and as they fertilise your lawn, they may be infecting your chickens.

Again, treating adult stock and keeping your young chicks inside does prevent these infections.



This is handled on the section of that name on this site. See Coccidiosis.


Although basically an external parasite, this I consider internal as well because it burrows into the blood supply of feathers. See picture .   142-4229_IMG

What we describe as feather mite is actually a quill mite (syringophilidae and gaudoglyphidae) that lives in quills and feeds on fluids obtained by piercing the calamus wall. The calamus is the hollow shaft of the feather that runs in the middle.

It eats its way into the quill, all the way into the end of the feather making the feathers brittle and causing it to have regular striations along its entire length.

For the broiler farmer it means very little, for layers it may mean in severe infestations some loss of blood and anaemia, but for the showman this is a disaster, because it takes eight weeks to grow a new feather, and wing feathers need to be all present and accounted for in order to feature on the show bench. Quill mites also eat into the new feather follicles just appearing, so that like a Japanese paper doll, when the feather unfolds, you have neat little lines all along its length already and the feather is already compromised before you start. Dosing with external parasitics is useless as I have discovered, because the pests are IN the bloodstream. The only remedy is to inject  IVOMEC  by  MERIAL, the only one that works, at a rate of 0,5 ml under the skin only, of each adult bird and this needs to be done every two months,  because the blood supply in the feather is difficult to access with any drug, and as I said before it takes eight weeks to grow a new feather.

You can only inject IVOMEC into adult birds, older than three months.

Only then can you be sure you have dealt with infestations in the new emerging feathers. No amount of biosecurity can prevent these pests from appearing in Africa, and the showman needs to be very aware of this.

Keeping birds indoors does not work and does not allow the birds the freedom to grow properly anyway so it is counterproductive.

From the pictures you can see how the mites eat the inside of the feather shaft (calamus) leaving small clumps of tissue and blood in their wake.

142-4234_IMG        picture 1.

The dreaded feather mite

The dreaded feather mitefeather mite 2 striations visible along the length of the feather. Feather is brittle and will break easily.

feather mite 2

feather mite 3

Picture 2,  shows striations that indicate this wing feather was infested already while it was a small nub. When the feather unfolds, the even striations appear exactly like this. And the feather is very brittle.  ( picture 3) Birds are uncomfortable and itch all day as well. Mites are apparent mainly in tail and wing feathering. Mites cannot be seen with the naked eye.

There are other parasitic infestations but these are the most common and sufficient to keep you awake at night! Remember that REGULAR treatment is the key as is the need for alternating medication so as to cover all bases. Never treat birds younger than three months, and never treat birds at the same time as administering a vaccine, as this overloads the system. Wait seven days between vaccination and deworming .

It is important to remember that biosecurity is the key to a healthy poultry operation: Vaccinations, deworming, cleaning of pens, disinfecting equipment, a good anti rodent programme, clean feed and clean water all work together to reduce the risks of infestations.

Embryonation of all these parasites depends on wet bedding, loawarm and moist conditions, filthy birds and heavy organic material loads. If you take all that away you are most likely to succeed in eliminating most of your internal pest problems. Have a good routine in place for disposing of carcasses and compost, for cleaning pens and spraying houses. Deworm every three months.

Remember that rats carry a lot of parasites, worms included so a good anti rodent programme is recommended as is a fly reduction programme. If your operation is clean you should not have flies anyway, but there are products that you can place in containers around the farm to reduce the fly population further.



These are prevalent wherever you are but more so in Africa.


This one is the most common of all our contestants. Although it is called NORTHERN and did originate in cold climates it has adapted remarkably well to Africa. Its scientific name is  ornithosus sylviarum.

It is supposed to be solely a bird host parasite but if you thought that was all be prepared to be shocked!

mites       mites3          mites5            mites6

Photos from Backyard and  The Poultry Site.

1. It can live on an intermediate host such as a rat or even a human being for months if not years, before it finds a bird host. During its time with the intermediate host it will be dormant and no eggs will hatch.

2. Its entire life cycle of one week when it breeds is on the bird host, and they can lay 100 eggs EACH.

3. Western equine encephalitis, Newcastle disease, and fowlpox virus have been isolated from these pests, although they are not known to be significant in the dissemination of these viruses.

4. Northern Fowl mites can live outside the host for months, and can lie dormant in dried goods, hay, grass or sandy soils. Once they come in contact with an intermediate host or a bird host they transfer.

5.Infestations can reduce egg production by 15 percent.

Minute eggs are pearly white and can be seen in clumps at the base of the downy feathers around the vent or on the crest of crested birds. The 6 legged  larva is translucent and whitish. The eight legged nymph varies in colour depending on whether it has engorged with blood. Engorged adults are approximately 1mm long. Where there is infestation, there is usually inflammation and scab will form over the bites. These scabs when removed leave a weepy red sore which is painful for the birds.

12 to 24 hours after its blood meal the female will lay her eggs.

Northern fowl mites tend to prefer winter in South Africa but I have them all year round and I live on the Eastern South Coast of South Africa where it is very warm and humid. I have found whenever we have rain, the mites will reappear.

It seems the only parasitic that works is Karbaryl in the form of a dusting powder. Flumethrin based products do not work.


red mites on perches

Photo from Backyard

These are rare in South Africa but it seems because of unscrupulous importation of illegal poultry and hatching eggs, it now is becoming a nuisance here as well as in Europe and the Us and UK where it is virulent.

Unlike Northern Fowl Mites these actually live on the perches and infest the birds at night when they roost.

These mites are blood feeders.   Dermansyssus  Gallinae is the scientific term.

They feed on the birds while they are at rest on perches and disappear back into the woodwork during the day.

They are generally white or greyish in colour until they become engorged with blood when they change to a deep red or dark brown. They hide in crevasses and cracks where they mate and lay eggs. The mite progresses through 5 life stages: egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph and adult. Under favourable conditions the entire life cycle can be completed in seven days. Populations grow rapidly, causing anaemia in badly infected birds. Young birds are most susceptible, but these mites affect all birds and can serve as vectors for salmonellosis, avian spirochaetosis and erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae.

The mite does bite mammals as well as humans causing dermatitis and skin lesions. They are not capable of reproducing or surviving on a human host.

The mites usually feed around the breast and legs of hens causing pain and irritation and a decrease in egg production. Pustules, scabs, hyperpigmentation (discoloration) and feather loss may occur. Eggs may have blood spots on them. If the infestation is severe hens will become white in the comb through anaemia.

Definite diagnosis can only be certain through the identification of eggs or mites themselves.

Birds can be treated with ectoparasitic products and perches should be treated with insecticide then creosote as creosote kills the mites, which if left alone can survive without a host for ten months in an empty house.

Products in SA such as MALASOL have proved effective in eradicating mites.


These are flat and infest the scaly part of the chicken legs as the name suggests. The scales start to lift and the legs swell. If it is not treated the bird may become lame and will not be able to walk straight.

scaly leg mite

Photos from Backyard


Known as knemidocoptes mutans, this is a small spherical sarcoptic mite that tunnels into the tissue under the scales of the shanks .

It is usually found on the legs of older birds where the scales have hardened and the legs have thickened with age. The legs become thickened, encrusted and unsightly. The legs are itchy and probably very uncomfortable. Feet and leg scales become raised, sometimes as much as half an inch, and the bird battles to walk.

Eventually the bird is so uncomfortable he stops eating and death follows. Infection can also be on the comb and wattles, and secondary bacterial infections often follow. The entire life cycle is on the skin, transmission is by contact, and infections can lie dormant until a stress situation causes a population explosion of mites. Birds that have feathered feet are often more at risk.


Mix one 500g tub of petroleum jelly with one teacup full of KARBASPRAY garden insecticide and one 100ml bottle of CALAMINE LOTION.

 KARBASPRAY  is a karbaryl based powder used in garden pest control and is quite safe to use.

You may know its brother, KARBADUST, a mild KARBARYL powder used very effectively to remove Northern Fowl Mites in birds, even young chicks. KARBARYL is a safe and mild insecticide.

This is a South African site so the products mentioned on this site are available in South Africa, but if you look for a KARBARYL based product in your country, providing karbaryl (which is part of the pyrethrin family) is an approved insecticide in your country, you should be able to find an alternative product.  With the KARBASPRAY you mix a 100ml bottle of Calamine Lotion, available at the pharmacy it is used to reduce itching in rashes on people, and add this to the Vaseline petroleum jelly.

Mix all this into a paste which you then smear all over the legs of the affected birds. Within a few days you will see an orange powdery substance on the legs…that is your dead mites. Apply for a second time . That should do the trick but you can reapply if you feel there are still live mites on the legs.

The remainder of the paste can be stored in an airtight jar for future use and does not deteriorate with age.

Please be aware that this condition is extremely painful for the birds once the infestation is allowed to go unchecked. Be prepared, and watch your birds constantly.


The sticktight flea (echidnophaga gallinacean) is a major poultry pest in our area. It is unique among parasites in that the adults become sessile parasites and can remain attached to the skin of the head or the anus for weeks. Females forcibly eject their eggs so that they reach the surrounding litter. The larvae develop in litter or sandy soil. The host is not specifically a chicken, it can be turkeys, pigeons, pheasants quails and people .I have seen them on ducks as well.

They cause irritation, blood loss and anaemia if not treated. Ulceration around the eyes can cause blindness. Trying to remove these pests by hand is fruitless as they grip with the strength of a pitbull. Better dose with a flumethrin based product and they drop off straight away.

It is vital that you remove dirty litter every day, turn the litter to aerate it, and never leave manure in heaps where the birds can scratch. You can dust the litter with STALOSAN F, or even with a spray based on Karbaryl.



Known as Menacanthus Stramineus the common poultry louse can decrease egg production in caged layers by 50%.

The skin of infected birds becomes irritated and red with formation of localised scabs and blood clots. The louse also attacks young forming feathers, drinking the blood, and feeds on debris of dander, skin fragments and feathers. Adults are yellowish to grey, flat- bodied with chewing mouth parts. They will be seen at the base of the feathers, when the feathers are parted. They are usually about 1/16th of an inch in length.


(cimex lectularius). This flat bug hides in the cracks of buildings, in the cracks of wooden houses during the day  and feeds at night when birds perch and are asleep. They cause small white hard swollen welts which become inflamed and itch severely. You will never see these on the birds during the day but tell tale bloody stains on the perches will betray the presence of these pests. The adult is reddish brown and oval in shape, flat, and about 1/4 inch long.

Spraying the perches and your houses with a general insecticide will remove these pests. Painting your wooden structures with creosote also deters them.

bed bug 1 pictures on The Poultry Site.


There are other pests that you will find in the actual houses and although they do not feed off your birds, they are harmful in other ways:

DARKLING BEETLE: (Also known as litter beetle).

This is the  adult of the mealworm, (alphitobius diaperinus). These are always in the houses especially in warmer climates and they do migrate to the human residence as well.  They fly but are more keen to crawl from nearby compost heaps and disposed litter dumps. When disturbed they fly.

They feed on grain and poultry feed, preferring the mouldy ration to the clean one, and their appetite costs the farmer in feed. You will find them behind the water troughs or under the litter where it is cool and wet. Larvae are known as lesser mealworms.

Most important about this little pest is that both the adults and the larvae are known to act as reservoirs for a million pathogens and parasites. Scientists have isolated the causative agent of LYMPHOID LEUKOSIS and MAREKS from this little beetle.

Positive confirmation of this transmission has been made under laboratory and field research conditions.

Mareks is usually diagnosed at ages 3 to 4 months but you will be able to spot the sick birds from the fact they are always smaller, weak, fail to thrive and are always pale and listless, this from day one. Birds will be pale, wings will droop, they might be gasping, and may have diarrhea. When in their death throes they will display the classic hurdler stance, one leg forward and one leg back. Acute leukosis is contagious, and is also airborne. The virus can survive in the dander of the birds, cobwebs in the houses, and inside these beetles. If one bird dies of Mareks and the beetle feeds on this carcass, the cycle begins again as the birds may eat the beetle.

Other diseases known to be harboured by the litter beetle are coccidiosis,  botulism, Newcastle, avian influenza, salmonella and fowl pox.

In short, it is a good idea to get rid of the litter beetle!

darkling beettles

How do you go about this?

1. Never have wet areas in the houses. Keep drinkers outside if you can, and if not possible, have the drinkers above ground level away from the bedding on bricks, and spray these bricks often with Malasol or Bayticol.

2. Make sure your bedding is cleaned every day and turned so as to avoid anaerobic conditions in which these things thrive.

3. When you remove bedding make sure you spray the houses with Bayticol or Malasol.

Beetles can lay up to 800 eggs in the litter during a 42 day period. Eggs develop into larvae in 4 to 7 dys. Life cycle requires 42 to 97 days depending on temperature. The adults live 3months but sometimes can survive a whole 12 months. Adults are black or brown, about 1/4 inch long. Larvae look like small wiry worms, about 3/4 inches long and are found in clumps under feed troughs or drinkers where it is dark and wet. Pupation occurs in the soil or walls of the poultry houses.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that eating these beetles gives your birds extra protein. In fact they may be getting a lot more than protein, and all of it unwanted.


There are many and you should always consider consulting a vet before using anything you are not sure about.

TRAMISOL is a liquid medication used for ostriches. It is based on Flumethrin, flubenzidole, and works quite well. However it is difficult to administer because you need to doctor the drinking water and no one knows exactly how much a bird will drink in a day, or one can administer with a syringe down the throat, and this can lead to fluid on the lungs.

IVERMECTIN injectable,  is very reliable, safe to use and deals with mites and external parasites as well as worms. The only one I have found that works is the MERIAL IVOMEC which I administer at a rate of 0,5ml per bird subcutaneously , PROVIDING THE BIRDS ARE ADULT AND OVER 3KG.

Bantams require 0,2ml subcutaneously. You can safely inject every three months, but make sure you do not inject birds younger than three months of age.

There are other products on the market which I have tried and discarded. Basically whatever works for you! Be careful of products that require you to dose a powder onto feed . Birds will scratch at their feed and your expensive product will end up at the bottom of the feeder. Similarly products that you add to the drinking water needs to be dosed for at least three days to make sure every bird has ingested at least a part of the medication. I prefer to inject because I know then  exactly what has been internalized.







  1. Pingback: FEEDING YOUR PURE BREEDS – Chicken Wired


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