Red Mite is an obligatory blood-feeding ecto-parasite (ecto means it attacks or feeds on the outside of the bird) as opposed to worms (endo parasite) that feed on the inside. It attacks resting birds, mainly during the night for a short (1 - 2 hours) blood meal. After feeding, the mites hide in cracks and crevices away from daylight. Here they mate and lay there eggs.
Red mites are very small and are just visible without magnification and may appear like moving specs of dirt the eggs are microscopically small (400 x 270u) oval and pearly white. Red mites are not species specific and will "attack" any species or breed of bird. They do not fly nor are they usually transmitted via clothing although if there is a bad infestation, mites have been known to "jump" onto a person's clothing and therefore could be transported this way to another location/Aviary etc.Remember they are only usually out of their hidey-holes towards dusk/dark and would be unusual for them to be active during daylight hours.
They are extremely mobile considering their microscopic size and can travel great distances relative to their size! They can be transferred from bird to bird or from wild birds landing on your Aviaries, especially if you have an open roof.
Adults - are red when engorged with blood otherwise black, grey or white, females are about 1 mm long, mouthparts: slender and whip like. Life cycle (stages) -Female mites deposit eggs (after a blood meal) in crevices, under boards, at the ends of perches where they butt up to the back of the cage or in debris near roosts. Under warm conditions the eggs can transform into : Six-legged larvae within 2 -3 days .These 6-legged larvae do not feed .Within 24 hours the larvae moult into 8-legged prototypes - which do feed.Protonymphs start to feed on roosting birds ,they then moult into Deut nymphs which continue feeding before becoming an Adult Male or Female Red-Mite.
Deut nymphs take a blood meal then moult into adults .Under favourable conditions the life cycle (egg-to-egg) can be completed in 7 days (frightening!!) Adults have lived up to 5+ months without a Blood Meal So, they can live off their host (the bird) without a Blood Feed - for up to 5+ months and still survive! They are nearly white when unfed but are bright red, when recently fed .They are grey to black with a partially digested blood meal inside them.
Site of infestation - Skin of the host, but most of the life cycle is spent in hiding places in the nest, Aviary, cage, perch-end or roost crevices.
Pathogenesis/clinical signs - If the levels of infestation are high, the mite can cause increased stress to the birds - including: Anaemia, due to blood loss - Severe skin irritation -Blood loss can cause increased susceptibility to disease especially if the bird's living conditions aren't the most sanitary! Or may be severe enough to cause death.
Clinical signs include restlessness, scratching, usually around the head with the foot or rubbing the head and face on perches (more often than usual) The mites can occasionally bite mammals, inc. humans, causing painful skin irritation often on the inside of the human forearm.
A large infestation will cause anaemia amongst small birds. They can be especially dangerous to small chicks in the nest. Mites may be difficult to find on the bird during daylight hours. Look for mites in their hiding places during the day with a magnifying glass, mainly confined to dark hiding spaces. If you suspect you have Red-mite, hang a piece of white cloth/white sheet over the front of your cage and in the morning you will find blood-red mites (as they will have just fed) they seem attracted to the white cloth. Check for tiny black spots - the mite's droppings these are also indicative of infestation.
Control measures - Seal as many joints & crevices of your Cages, Aviaries, Nest boxes & Feeders as possible Use "Painters' Mate" mastic (that sets hard) or similar (you can get it in brown)Red mites are able to survive rigorous cleaning and disinfections programmes .Heat guns have been used to some effect on the joints and crevices of wood-work. Steam cleaners (no birds in the Aviary at the time!). Synthetic Pyrethroid (Cypermethrin) .Pyrethroid (alphacypermethrin) Permethrin and Piperonly Butoxide ,Permethrin is also used in healthcare, to eradicate parasites such as head lice and scabies,and in industrial and domestic settings to control pests such as ants and termites. Silica-based products. Citrus extracts.FLYCAM W (Recommended by DEFRA for Poultry Farmers to eradicate Red Mite from their Flocks
- apparently very effective - comes in powder Form and can be diluted to spray).
IVERMECTIN "spot-on" is one of the most effective preventative and eradicating measures you can take.
It works in a similar way to "Frontline" which you can buy to put on your dogs and cats to worm them and kill off flea’s etc.Ivermectin works systemically i.e. it is absorbed through the skin or feather shaft into the birds body. So, it follows that it also will be absorbed into your body through your skin if you get it on you. You MUST WEAR rubber GLOVES before you catch up your bird to administer it it can make you feel ill and you know you have absorbed it because you get a strange bitter taste in your mouth! Catch up your bird and blow the feathers apart at the back of its neck where it can't get it's beak to preen. Put one or 2 drops (check directions first so you do not overdose) on the back of the birds neck, as near to the skin as possible. Give it a few seconds to start to absorb before letting the bird go.IVERMECTIN controls and helps to kill both internal (worms) and external (mites and lice etc.) parasites. You can buy it over the internet or from certain Pet shops and at Bird Sales.
Feeding your bird Garlic (helps deter mites) ,It works by exuding a strong garlic smell thru the birds skin, which the mites and other biting insects don't seem to like (your can buy pure Garlic powder or granules from Agricultural merchants or Saddlers)Add it to a soft food such as Egg Food and/or sweetcorn .Eucalyptus leaves/branches in the Aviary are supposed to help to deter Red-Mites, It has been rumoured that having Zebra Finches in the Aviary seems to have help get rid of them One theory is that they eat them. The other theory is that when the Red-mite suck the Zebra's blood it is toxic to them and kills them .Not sure which, if any is true - but worth trying - if you have a small-bird Aviary where the Zebra Finch would fit in with the other birds.
Directions for use - Red Mite Concentrate or any Anti-mite spray preparation : Red mite is a nocturnal creature so it’s best to spray the birds at night. Check the preparation you are using is safe to use on birds or NEAR to birds BEFORE YOU SPRAY with your birds in their Aviary. Dim the lights as low as practically possible to avoid any undue agitation amongst the birds. Don’t forget that red mite can live away from the bird for up to 36 weeks.
"GRANDAD'S" Tried & Tested Red-Mite deterrents - Paint Paraffin into the cracks and crevices with a small paintbrush. Mix Paraffin with Vaseline and smear in Cracks and crevices + nest box bases. Vaseline smothers the mites - as in scaly-face and scaly-leg. Use Carbolic Soap in the same way you would use the Paraffin & Vaseline .Double-sided sticky tape over cracks and crevices .Coca Cola - the coke sticks to them and the Acid in the coke breaks down the Red Mite's outer shell, killing them. A very sticky, but apparently effective treatment.
Thanks to Solway Parrot Society for the use of this article.