Home > Research > A-Z of Diseases > Poultry Red Mite

Poultry Red Mite

Poultry red mite is a blood-feeding parasite that has considerable welfare and production implications for both commercial laying hens and backyard flocks. 

The mites live “off host” in the cracks and crevices of the poultry house, emerging in darkness to feed upon hens.  Red mites are related to ticks and almost all life stages of the mite are blood-feeding.  Adult females will feed every 3 to 4 days in order to produce, on average, 30 eggs in their lifetime.  In ideal conditions, red mite can develop from an egg to a sexually mature adult in just 7 days.  With such an efficient lifecycle, mite numbers in poultry houses can be massive; in severe infestations, numbers can range between 200,000 and 500,000 mites per hen! Given the large blood requirement of an individual mite and their population numbers, the health and welfare implications for laying hens can be severe.

Key Points

  • Poultry red mites are one of the biggest health and welfare issue in laying hens worldwide, irrespective of the type of laying system (cage, free range, organic, barn etc) being used
  • The mites bite the hens to feed on blood, causing irritation, anaemia in severe cases and potentially transmitting bacterial and viral diseases
  • The mites bite workers in the poultry sheds too, causing discomfort and irritation
  • The mites can live without feeding for up to 9 months and controlling them with chemical sprays is difficult because they hide in hard-to-reach places in the sheds
  • Research at Moredun is aimed at trying to develop a vaccine to protect hens against the mites, along the same lines as the anti-tick vaccine (TickGARD) developed in Australia
  • At Moredun we are also involved in sequencing the genome of the mite to look for new clues to control it and we are working with colleagues to understand the chemical cues that control mite behaviour.

Research at Moredun

Current interests and future aims:

  • Vaccine development
  • Genome sequencing
  • Developing new ways to measure the effectiveness of vaccines and novel therapies addressing the 3Rs principles
  • Understanding the chemical cues that mites use to find hens and aggregate
  • Understanding resistance to current chemical control methods

Research Funding

Current research funding is from The Genomia Fund and is co-funded by an industrial sponsor. This project aims to exploit the findings of a previous BBSRC/Zoetis/Akita-finded project “Vaccine development for the poultry red mite” by driving the research findings towards commercial exploitation.

Farming and Veterinary Outreach

Members of our poultry red mite research team interact with the UK’s largest poultry-devoted veterinary practice St. David’s Poultry Group and with local, national and international egg producers through direct visits, meetings, presentations and through the British Egg Industry Council and the British Egg Marketing Board Trust.

Our scientists regularly give talks and Moredun events and roadshows.  Please see our events page for any forthcoming activities in this area or if you would like to arrange a speaker for an event please contact The Moredun Communications Team.

Our scientists are also members of the EU COST Action FA1404 “COREMI” which promotes the improved understanding and research for sustainable control of the poultry red mite through co-operation and multidisciplinary networking between scientists and other stakeholders from different member states and from different disciplines. For more information visit: http://www.coremi.eu/home.html

Public Outreach

Our scientists visit the Royal Highland Show annually to discuss poultry red mite, and any other livestock diseases which interest our visitors.