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Fleas

Sticktight Flea Infestation

Overview


Fleas are tiny, wingless insects of the order Siphonaptera that are an external parasite of backyard or free range poultry flocks. There are over 2,000 different species of fleas worldwide, causing a source of annoyance, blood loss, pain, skin inflammation, self mutilation, and sometimes death to their hosts. Fleas can also act as a vector for disease-causing pathogens. The most common fleas that infest chickens are the Sticktight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea) and the European chicken flea (Ceratophyllus gallinae). Both species of fleas are found in subtropical and tropical areas worldwide and are also known to have an extremely wide host range, including many species of mammals and birds. It is most commonly found in poultry, dogs, cats, rabbits, insects, rodents, and sometimes horses and even humans.

Adult fleas are visible to the naked eye, and are found on the skin around the eyes, comb, face, and wattles of chickens, where they feed on their blood. Immature stages of fleas live and grow within the soil and bedding within the chicken's environment where they feed on the feces and organic material until adults. The entire life cycle of a flea is about 1-2 months. High amounts of fleas can accumulate in chicken flocks, and especially on sickly, old, or younger birds.
In a survey conducted on backyard flocks in southern California (between June and September 2015), sticktight fleas were found on 20% of the 20 different properties. Some birds were found with hundreds of fleas attached to their comb, wattles, and around the eyes.

Bedbugs Vs Red Poultry Mites Vs Sticktight Fleas

BedbugRed poultry miteSticktight Flea
Adult Appearance   
 BedbugRed poultry miteSticktight flea
Size4-12 mm (0.15-0.47 in)1-1.5 mm (0.04-0.06 in)1.5-4 mm (0.06-0.16 in)
ColorReddish brownGray to blackDark brown
Turns redYesYesNo
WingsNoNoNo
Body typeOval and flatOvalFlat
SpeedQuick-movingSlow movingSlow moving
Visible to the naked eyeYesYesYes
Feeds onBloodBloodBlood
Where they are foundHide in crevices, cracks, behind floorboards, in walls, and behind wall outlets during the day, feed on chickens at nightHide in crevices and cracks during the day, feed on chickens at nightBare skin on the head - comb, wattles, near eyes
TransmissionContaminated equipmentWild birds, rodents, wildlife, dogs, cats, humans, contaminated equipmentTurkeys, wildlife, wild birds, dogs, cats, horses, pigs, people, soil, litter
Where eggs are laidTiny, microscopic whitish, sticky eggs that adhere to surfaces in secluded areasLays their eggs in their hiding spotsLay their eggs around the eyes anad wattles of chickens, causing nodules. Once the flea larvae hatch, they drop off the chicken to live in the soil for 2 weeks.
Average Life cycle4 weeks2 weeks1-2 months
How you can tellLook around the premises for the presence of bugsLook for them at night on the birds Visible during the daytime, found in clusters on unfeathered areas, such as the bird's eyes, comb, and wattles.
TemperatureTemperate regionsWarm weatherWarm and humid weather
Clinical signsExcessive feather loss, vent irritation, lesions on breasts and legs, anemia, reduced egg productionRestlessness at night, dermatitis, anemia, may cause chickens to alter where they roost at night.dark brown spots face, anemia, restlessness, swollen eyelids, crusted lesions, ulcerations, blindness
ZoonoticYesYesYes
Carry diseasesYesYesNo

Clinical Signs

Tiny bugs crawling on comb, wattles, or near eyes
Decreased egg production
Stunted growth
Skin irritation
Pale comb/ wattles

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Identification of bug

Treatment

NameSummary
CleansingGently bathe infested chickens with a mixture of 1.5L of water and 1 ml of mild dishwashing liquid, rinse with fresh water.
Avoid contact with the chicken's eyes.
Malathion sprayApply to walls and floors of coopC Stadler et al., 1996
Pyrethrin sprayApplied to nestbox and bedding litterC Stadler et al., 1996
Petroleum jellyApply copious amounts of petroleum jelly to the bird's comb and wattles, aiming to coat over the adult fleas.
The petroleum jelly suffocates the fleas.
Repeat application weekly until fleas are gone.
Physical removalIndividual fleas can be removed from birds with tweezers by grasping and pilling firmly, followed by applying an antibiotic ointment to the area where the flea was found to minimize risk of secondary infections.P Koehler et al., 2015

Prevention

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Blogs

Risk Factors

  • Presence of domestic dogs and cats on the property, especially if they have fleas
  • Presence of wild animals

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn