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Lice

Lice, sometimes referred to as 'poultry lice', 'chewing lice', or 'louse', are one of the most common ectoparasites (parasites which live on the outside of the body) found in backyard or free range chickens. Lice are a permanent ectoparasite, meaning that they will spend their entire life cycle on the body of the host, where they feed on feathers, dead skin, blood, or secretions.

There are several different types and species of lice found on chickens. These include:
  • Cuclotogaster heterographus (the head louse)
  • Goniodes dissimilis (the brown chicken louse)
  • Goniodes gigas (the large chicken louse)
  • Goniocotes gallinae (the fluff louse)
  • Lipeurus caponis (the wing louse)
  • Menacanthus cornutus (the body louse)
  • Menacanthus stramineus (the body louse): This is one of the most common lice species found in backyard and free range chickens living in the United States.
  • Menopon gallinae (the feather-shaft louse): This is one of the most common lice species found in backyard and free range chickens living in the United States and Australia.
  • Oxylipeurus dentatus (the toothed louse)
  • Uchida pallidula (the small body louse)

What do Adult Lice Look Like?


Lice are wingless, sex-legged insects with dorsoventrally flattened bodies. They are visible to the naked eye but may be difficult to see since they are very tiny (vary in size from 0.8 to 1.1 mm) and move very fast! They range in color from nearly white, shades of yellow and brown, to black. Lice have a life span of about a month. Female lice will produce an average of 1 to 2 eggs per day, and lay a total of 12 to 20 eggs.

How do I Inspect Chickens for Lice?


Since adult lice move very fast and are tiny, they are often difficult to see. Their eggs however (which are called nits), are easier to identify. Lice eggs look like whitish, oval capsules which are attached individually or ‘cemented’ in clumps along the base or between the barbs of the bird’s feathers. The eggs are often easier to find then the lice, since the eggs will glisten in reflected light, particularly before they hatch. Hatched eggs will remain attached to the feathers and appear grayish and flattened in appearance.

How Do Lice Spread?


Lice are spread from bird to bird through direct contact with other lice infested birds---wild or domestic. Lice require a host to survive and cannot live on humans or other animals. They move from bird to bird by crawling on to them.

Clinical Signs

Presence of 'cemented' clusters of eggs at the base of feathers
Tiny, fast insects seen on body
Increased preening
Dull, poor quality plumage (feathers)
Lethargy
Feather loss
Excessive itching
Red patchy areas of skin
Chewed-looking feather shafts
Pale comb and wattles
Weight loss

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Skin scraping

Treatment

NameSummary
EnvironmentalThoroughly clean and sanitize the environment where birds are kept, especially the coop.
Ivermectin 1% dropsApplied to chickensIn accordance with label instructions
Poultry powderIt is more important to apply the powder directly to the bird's body rather than the premisesIn accordance with label instructions
AshAdd spent ash from a wood-burning fireplace into the chicken's dustbathing areaNatural Chicken Keeping Blogspot
NuStockApply to clusters of eggs by coating the egg sacs with itNatural Chicken Keeping
Neem seed extract spray133 dilution (with tap water) of a neem seed extract (MiteStop®) or by spraying them with the freshly diluted product

Apply caution because neem is toxic to chickens if ingested.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) (food grade)6 cups of DE combined with 25 lbs (1/2 bag) of washed play sand in a large plastic container such as a plant pot or storage containerA. Murillo, UC Riverside; Martin et al., 2012
Force moltingWhen chickens molt they will shed the lice-infested feathers. However, these feathers need to be promptly removed, to prevent reinfection of the new feathers that grow in.

Support

Prevention

  • Do not trim chicken's beaks
  • Provide a dust bathing area for chickens
  • Keep coops clean and dry
  • Regularly examine chickens for signs of lice (at least twice a month). Involves looking for egg clusters at the base of the feathers, or adult insects.

Prognosis

Good as long as the problem is addressed.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Blogs

Risk Factors

  • Chickens with injured, deformed, or trimmed beaks, which prevent them from preening their feathers properly.
  • Not providing chickens with an area to dust bath

Seasonality

WinterSpringSummerAutumn