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Taxonomy terms

BIRD MITES

These pests may be living under your very roof, but will only suck your blood out of desperation. Would you be able to identify a bird mite?

 

Common name:  Bird mite

Common species in Australia include the tropical bird mite (AKA starling mite) and red poultry mite (AKA roost mite). Bird mites are sometimes mistakenly called bird lice (adult mites have eight legs, lice have six legs).

Scientific name(s): Family Macronyssidae, including Ornithonyssus bursa (tropical bird mite) and Dermanyssidae, including Dermanyssus gallinae (red poultry mite).

Description: Tiny, transparent, slightly hairy eight-legged invertebrates with oval bodies and dark red or black markings from ingested blood, under 1 mm in length. Larval stages have six legs. Distinguishing species from one another generally required expertise and a microscope and can be problematic when the actual mite is sometimes Ornithonyssus bacoti, the tropical rat mite. Mites can be felt crawling and biting, and collected on sticky tape, but do not burrow into skin.

Geographic distribution: Found in all parts of Australia, with the tropical bird mite found worldwide in warm or tropical areas, and the red poultry mite attacks domestic birds worldwide.

Habitat: Depending on the species, eggs may be laid on feathers and near roosting or nesting birds. The older life stages may feed at night or during the day. Only the later life stages feed on blood, with females doing so more often than males, but some can survive for over eight months without feeding. The entire life cycle from egg to adult can be completed in seven days. Bird mites are most active in spring and early summer, and prefer warm humid conditions.

Pest status: Migration of mites from nesting birds or hitching a rid on the clothes of those working with poultry or other birds are the most common source of bird mite infestation inside houses. When birds abandon their nest, lice will enter the house looking for new hosts, although they will bite humans they cannot continue their life cycle on human hosts. Bites may cause small itchy welts or serious irritation. Poultry mites are known to carry some serious bird diseases, but secondary bacterial infection of bites is more likely in humans.

Treatment: Birds should be physically excluded from roof and wall cavities and external ledges, and any nests removed. Full body protection should be worn, to avoid picking up mites yourself. Cavities should then be fogged or dusted with an approved insecticide. Rooms inside the house should be vacuumed, and bed-linen thoroughly washed. Since bird mites are very difficult to distinguish from tropical rat mites, the possibility of infested rat or mice  nests in the building should also be considered.

 

Daniel Heald, technician and entomologist

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