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El ácaro rojo: el enemigo en la oscuridad de las gallinas

The red mite: the enemy in the dark of the chickens

In the world of poultry, laying hens face a problem that is not new, but increasingly serious. It is the Dermanyssus gallinae, also known as the red chicken mite (ARG).

Knowing the red mite of chickens

The red mite of chickens, sometimes also called red louse, is a very small mite, but of sufficient size to be visible to the human eye and which is hematophagous, that is, it feeds on blood. It is therefore a parasitic mite, although, due to its feeding strategy, it has also been defined as a micro-predator [1]. What makes the red mite so “slippery” is hiding during the day in cracks and holes out of the reach of chickens, to at night, leave their hiding places and feed on them.

Hen red mite cycle (photo taken from Sparagano et al, 2014.  Significance and Control of the Poultry)

Effects of chicken red mite

We can divide the consequences of red mite infestations into:

  • Impact on the hen:
    • By feeding on blood, severe infestations can lead to anemia and even death by exsanguination (loss of most or all of the blood volume) [2].
    • By feeding during the birds' sleeping hours, they prevent adequate rest by raising stress levels [3].
    • It has been shown that the red mite can act as a vector for viral and bacterial agents [4, 5].
  • Economic impact:
    • Significantly reduces egg laying and egg quality [6].
    • It increases the costs derived from the treatments to control it.
    • Losses of 231 million euros are estimated in the European Union [7].
  • Public health implications:
    • It can bite humans causing dermatitis and pruritus [8].
    • Today, it requires pesticides for its control, with the negative consequences that these can have on the environment and health.

Research focused on needs

Due to the high cost that this mite represents for poultry, and that the acaricides end up generating resistance, there are European initiatives to encourage the development of alternative tools to control the red mite. Within the European COST program, there is the COST COREMI, dedicated to establishing a European network for the study and control of this parasite, in which SABIOTEC participates.

From SABIOTEC we also work and collaborate with international teams in the development of vaccines and in biological control through the identification of natural predators of Dermanyssus gallinae. We are currently working, together with the SaBio Group, on a project to develop vaccine candidates for chicken red mites. For this project, Jose Fran Lima is developing his industrial doctorate, financed by MINECO.

Autor: Jose Francisco Lima


  1. Roy L, Chauve C, Buronfosse T. Contrasted ecological repartition of the Northern Fowl Mite Ornithonyssus sylviarum(Mesostigmata : Macronyssidae) and the Chicken Red Mite Dermanyssus gallinae (Mesostigmata : Dermanyssidae). Acarologia. 2010;50:207–19.
  2. Cosoroaba I. Massive Dermanyssus gallinae invasion in battery-husbandry raised fowls. Rev Med Vet. Écoles Nationales Vétérinaires de Lyon et de Toulouse; 2001;152:89–96.
  3. Sigognault Flochlay A, Thomas E, Sparagano OAE. Poultry red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) infestation: a broad impact parasitological disease that still remains a significant challenge for the egg-laying industry in Europe. Parasit Vectors. BioMed Central; 2017;10:357.