Red or black lice,
the most harmful parasite in aviaries and the scourge of poultry farms
Have red lice invaded your henhouse or aviary? Are they multiplying at breakneck speed and you don't know where to start? An invasion of red lice can become very complicated if you don't act quickly. In this dossier, you'll find a range of answers and products to help you combat this invasive insect.
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An ectoparasite is a parasite that lives on the body surface of a living being. There are several species of red lice, the most important of which is Dermanyssus Gallinae.
The red louse is an arthropod of the arachnid class, of the order Acariens, of the suborder Mesostigma and of the family Dermanyssidae.
It measures between 0.5 and 2 mm when fully grown. They range in colour from grey to bright red, turning dark red to almost black when digestion is complete. The red louse larva is transparent white.
As with bedbugs, they are very difficult to get rid of.
An external avian ectoparasitic mite, temporary and nocturnal, it remains hidden during the day in crevices or cracks near its hosts and attacks at night by sucking their blood (for 1 to 2 hours).
Normally it survives only temporarily on humans and mammals, but people in regular contact with infested animals can develop irritations and allergies following bites.
How do red lice find their host to feed on ?
Red lice locate their hosts using a highly specialised recognition system, called chemoreceptors, located on the antennae. These chemoreceptors are sensitive to various parameters :
- Perception of heat
- Infrared radiation
- Day/night vision
- Chemo-olfactance (perception of specific molecules and odours)
Specific data (osmolarity, salinity, chemical composition) confirm to "suckers" like red lice that they are indeed sucking blood and can therefore feed. The precision of sensory perception is linked to the number of chemoreceptors. The red louse that lives close to its host has few antennular receptors (fewer than 50, compared with a mosquito or fly, which can have up to 5,000). These are also used for sexual purposes.
Watch out for red lice !
The red louse is a small vampire that makes its home in both hen houses and pigeon houses.
They attack sleeping animals at night, suck their blood and then retreat again.
All breeders agree: the red louse is now the most harmful external parasite in aviaries, pigeon houses and hen houses.
Whether you're a hobbyist, a small breeder or a professional, whether you keep ornamental birds (canaries, pigeons, serins, parakeets, etc.), laying hens, pheasants or quails, there are few who have not been infected at least once by this parasite.
This is not just a French phenomenon, but a worldwide one, with an estimated 70-80% of professional layer hen farms affected to varying degrees of severity. The consequences can range from a drop in egg-laying to the death of the hens from exhaustion.
Lice are generally introduced into the henhouse, cage or aviary by an outsider, but they can also be introduced by the breeder or a mammal such as a rat or dog.
According to studies by ITAVI (Institut Technique de l'AVIculture), the strains attacking wild birds are different. It is therefore unlikely that this parasite will be brought back by a nearby nest.
Its presence is a danger :
Its repeated bites cause anaemia (reduction in the number of red blood cells), which can be fatal in young birds. As carriers of pathogenic bacteria, they can inoculate themselves with germs (salmonella) or parasites (plasmodium) and can sometimes attack humans.
Its presence can lead to reduced egg-laying in hens (but also to discoloured yolks and stained eggs) and severe anaemia in squabs.
In favourable conditions of temperature and humidity, the complete cycle (egg to egg) of the red louse does not exceed one week. Clearly, destroying this parasite is no simple matter, especially as it is capable of going 8 months without feeding or surviving by taking the necessary proteins from droppings, feathers and dust!
Given the speed with which they reproduce (a female can lay 100 to 200 eggs a week), infestations can quickly become very large (exponential multiplication).
As with all insects that reproduce very quickly, there is a potential risk that any red lice that survive the treatment will develop resistance to the insecticide used.
Lice are a fearsome parasite, and to destroy them you'll need courage and patience.
Main areas infested by red lice
Red lice can hide in many places away from light, but the most common are :
- under droppings on duckboards,
- under nesting troughs and fixing hooks,
- in perch tubes,
- under nest perch bars.
Obviously, it is very difficult to destroy the colony completely. The aim of the treatment is to keep the red lice population at an acceptable level so that there is no impact on the quality and quantity of production.
If your animals are dying or appear exhausted, if your broods are suffering from unusual mortality or if the eggs have small red spots, then it's possible that you too are running a red lice farm!
To be sure, and if you haven't had the chance to see them yet, there's a very easy and effective way of detecting their presence. As these insects seek out a dark corner close to their hosts, provide them with a hiding place: one or more pieces of white cloth balled up close to your pets. After a few days, unfold them and check for the presence or absence of parasites.
When should red lice be treated ?
Normally, red lice do not tolerate light. However, it has been found that when the infestation is very high (too many lice for the number of hosts), they can be present on their host at all times, with or without light (the lice take turns feeding).
To destroy as many red lice as possible, it is therefore advisable to treat when the building is completely dark, i.e. 2 hours after the light has disappeared or early in the morning before the light appears.
Red lice attack birds Whatever treatment product you use, its effectiveness will depend on the quality of its application and, above all, the cleanliness of the surface.
Dust, feathers, droppings, etc. are ideal hiding places for red lice. Surfaces must therefore be as clean as possible.
1 - Cleaning
- Empty the area completely, getting rid of any straw or litter (burn it if possible),
- Scrape, brush and carefully scrape horizontal and vertical surfaces using a high-pressure cleaner or water jet,
- Remove all dust,
- Wash with water and black soap,
- As far as possible, dismantle the breeding equipment and clean it.
2 - Treatment of buildings
a. To treat large areas, we recommend using a garden sprayer and 4J insecticide concentrate. To give you an idea, a 250ml bottle diluted in 5 litres of water will treat around 50m² (also available in 125ml, 500ml or 1 litre).
Water all horizontal and vertical surfaces thoroughly, paying particular attention to nooks and crannies, cracks and crevices. This treatment, if carried out methodically, should eliminate a large proportion of the adults and eggs.
b. When everything is dry, you can then sprinkle all horizontal surfaces, nests and nooks and crannies with our diatomaceous earth.
You don't need to use large quantities of powder, but it is important to spread the product as evenly as possible to block the lice's access. In a cage or if you are using newspaper, it is advisable to put the powder under and on top of the newspaper. The idea is that the lice will pass through the surface treated with the powder before reaching their prey. For action in the tiniest nooks and crannies, small holes and hard-to-reach gaps, choose diatomaceous earth spray in aerosol form.
c. As the louse's cycle lasts a week, you may need to consider treating cages, cracks and all nooks and crannies 2 or 3 times, one week apart.
3 - Animal treatment
After treating the buildings, you'll need to treat your animals with our ALT'O ZINSECT insect repellent spray. A formula combining 3 recognised active ingredients (Eucalyptus citriodora, plant pyrethrum and geraniol), which are extremely effective at keeping biting insects at bay. This prevents the return of red lice on treated animals (repellent effect) and also eliminates those already present on the animals (prevents blood sampling). For example, for a hen: 6 to 8 ml (2 to 3 sprays): you'll need to lift the feathers a little during the treatment, as this is often where the red lice are found. This treatment is sufficient for around 10 days.
4 - Treating perches, cages, feeders, etc.
You can use our ALT'O ZINSECT gel insect repellent to treat all the little nooks and crannies, especially vertical surfaces where liquid products won't stick. This product has the same composition as ALT'O ZINSECT spray, but is formulated in gel form. It's easy to apply with a brush.
5 - Remaining vigilant
From time to time, remember to do the rag test and check for the presence or absence of head lice.
6 - Be preventive
Most liquid insecticides, whether natural or synthetic, degrade over time and quickly lose their effectiveness. On the other hand, diatomaceous earth-based products (also known as Kieselguhr or silicon dioxide) remain effective as long as they are not covered in a layer of dust and are dry.
Every time you clean your aviary or henhouse, you can systematically apply diatomaceous earth. This harmless operation (silicon dioxide is also used in animal feed) gives excellent results in protecting your animals from lice.
Customer opinions on our method of action and our products to combat red lice
Here is an email exchange with one of our customers :
"I have 13 hens and they have red lice. I'd like to be able to treat them as well as the henhouse I'm not sure what to buy, could you advise me ?"
To treat the buildings : 4J insecticide concentrate, dilute with water before use,
To treat the hens : ALT'O ZINSECT insect repellent.
Mrs C. followed our advice and bought : ALT'O ZINSECT spray - ALT'O ZINSECT gel and 4J insecticide concentrate 250ml.
Here's her response after carrying out the appropriate treatments :
"Just to tell you that the effectiveness of the products you sold me is remarkable. I followed your instructions to the letter and just one treatment was enough. I'll be sure to tell everyone about it! Thank you so much. Mrs C."
Mail from another satisfied customer :
"I ordered some products from you against red henhouse lice. The treatment was very successful. Thank you."
Frequently asked questions about red lice
Q: Do you know a professional who treats red lice problems in Paris with your products? Our 48 m2 flat is infested (pigeon's nest near the toilet, which is where the infestation started), and we're under attack. We live with a 9-month-old baby, who doesn't seem to have been bitten yet.
A: We don't have any addresses of professionals who use our products in the Paris region. I don't think these insects attack humans. Red lice are mainly a parasite of hens and birds, so they also affect pigeons. If you remove the pigeons, and especially the nest (the droppings), you'll get rid of the red lice.
Q: Could you tell me what product and what dosage I can use to destroy red lice in my henhouse ? And can I use the product you recommend directly on the poultry ?
A: For red lice, you can use 2 products: 4J insecticide diluted at 5%, but only on buildings (it's not approved for treating animals) and Alt'O Zinsect spray, which you can use on buildings as well as on poultry.
Q: I have a 1 year old rat at home who has contracted red lice from her litter box. I wanted to know if the products you offer are safe for such small animals ?
A: No problem. Only cold-blooded animals should be avoided.
Q: We have horses in the pasture; what products are effective against lice and ticks ? How can we effectively eradicate ticks from the meadow ? How can I protect my horses from lice and ticks ? Which products ? Dilution ? How do I use it ?
A: For ticks on horses, you'll need to use ALT'O ZINSECT Long-Lasting Insect Repellent for horses, ponies and other animals.
Q: I'm a pigeon fancier and I used to put carbaryl-based products in people's bath water, but this product is banned from sale in France. There are a multitude of products against parasites but they all have to be sprayed and when they exist, the pigeons reject the bath because the water is coloured or smelly. Do you have an effective product against pigeon parasites to put in the pigeon bath ?
A: orry, we don't have this type of product.
Q: I have a big problem with mites (red lice) on my canaries, I lose them regularly, but I have a pyrethrum diffuser, I've emptied the veranda and I've put in a fumigant, but the problem still exists. Do you have a product that I can use without fear for my birds ? I can't manage.
A: I'm not sure that pyrethrum diffusion is enough to kill these ectoparasites. You can treat your birds with our ALT'O ZINSECT spray. It's harmless and has been tested on red lice. You should also treat your cage or aviary with ALT'O ZINSECT gel.
Q: What should be done when people have been attacked by red hen lice ?
A: If you're talking about the bites that red lice can cause, then you need to use the same products as for bites from other insects. We have an effective body lotion based on eucalyptus citriodora.
Q: I was looking for an ORGANIC treatment for chicken lice on Google and came across your site. It's very interesting. Do you have any experience of this type of treatment ? I chose lavender, but how do you treat it in an open shelter ?
A: Lavender essential oil, that's right. It's often used to treat head lice, but on children! No essential oil is really an insecticide, but rather a repellent. However, we do have 100% natural insecticides that might be suitable for you.
Q: I share my living room with a tribe of eight canaries. I'd like you to tell me about an insecticide that is harmless to these birds, which are very sensitive to their environment. The danger comes particularly from mosquitoes that transmit smallpox to birds. I diffuse specific essential oils, but that's not always enough.
A: Our insecticides, which you'll find on our website, are completely harmless to birds, as they are to all living creatures apart from insects and cold-blooded animals. You can treat the room and/or the birds.
Q: I think my birds are infested with red lice. I've just cleaned and treated the cage. The room in which the cage is located has a carpeted floor (it's my office), and as a precaution I'd like to disinfect it, but I don't know what product to use ? an all-insect insecticide treatment (4J concentrate diluted at 5%).
A: Red lice are fairly resistant insects. I'm not sure about the effectiveness of aerosols on this insect. In natural form, we have the Ecodoo All Insects spray. You can try fumigants, but that's not at all natural and there's no guarantee of results. For carpets, insecticide 4j at 5% poses no problem.
Q: I'm contacting you for information about diatomaceous earth. I've been advised to use your earth against chicken lice, summer dermatitis for horses, mites on horses and hens and dog fleas. What product and quantity do you recommend ?
A: Diatomaceous earth is not a miracle product that solves all problems. It is often combined with another treatment to complement it. For red lice, don't hesitate to read our dossier on the subject. Based on feedback, it would appear that diatomaceous earth alone cannot completely solve all your problems! For chicken lice or insects on horses, we have ALT'O ZINSECT spray. We also have a wide range of products for cats, dogs,...
Q: I'm looking for a new product that is more effective and, above all, less toxic to health than the one I currently use to combat red henhouse lice. I found brown lice on the drinking trough (around the stopper) and white lice... So I started disinfecting with my usual product, saniterpern + pyrethrum powder in the nesting boxes. They're not all dead and I don't want another infestation like I've had in the past due to a lack of knowledge. My hens are in an old stable, quite a large area with lots of wood unfortunately... difficult to treat everything... Of course, they have a run of about 400 m² outside. What product would you recommend ?
A: All the answers are on this red lice page.
Q: My canaries have lice and I'm about to start breeding them. What's the best and most effective way of getting rid of them ?
A: You'll find all the answers on this red lice page.
Q: I've received my order for an all-insect spray, Margosa extract and ALT'O ZINSECT spray. These products were used to eliminate lice in my henhouse. I'm writing to ask if I can eat my hens' eggs after the treatment (which I did yesterday). I haven't read any contraindications on your site.
A: According to all the information we have, there's no problem with eating eggs treated with margosa, as this product is mainly used to treat crops.
As far as 4J insecticide is concerned, you should of course avoid "spraying" eggs with it. While the membrane of an egg is permeable to air, it is not permeable to water. With ALT'O ZINSECT there can be no contamination of eggs.
To treat a hen house, proceed as follows :
- Remove the eggs and hens, not out of danger to them but to carry out a :
- Thoroughly clean the area (droppings on the floor and perches). If you don't do this first, you'll have trouble getting rid of the red lice.
- Then spray with 4J insecticide.
Q: On the ALT'O ZINSECT product page, your application example relates to the treatment of a horse. How many sprays should I apply to my hens using ALT'O ZINSECT spray?
A: You're right, the proportions for treating a horse or a hen are necessarily different. Horses are like humans. Its perspiration destroys most products such as mosquito or sun protection, so it needs to be renewed more often. For a hen, if she doesn't get caught in the rain, a treatment every 2 or 3 weeks is more than enough.
The problem with hens compared with horses: for horses, you treat the skin. For hens, it's more difficult unless you lift the feathers a bit during the treatment: 2 or 3 sprays/hen is enough for 2 weeks.
Q: What particular danger is there in using ALT'O ZINSECT Spray ?
A: ALT'O ZINSECT does not contain any R-phrases (danger), so there is no danger in using it or overdosing.
Q: Hello, I'm a breeder of hens, pigeons and rabbits for poultry shows in Alsace. This is my problem. For a month now I've had fleas in my henhouse and on my dog, so I'm also thinking about the hens, pigeons and rabbits. I've read that pyrethrum works as well as at home. But which one to choose ? Can you advise me on which range to choose ? I'm not a customer yet, but will become one in the future.
A: All mammals have fleas, but the chicken or pigeon flea is called the red louse (The bird flea is called Dasypsyllus gallinulae. Ceratophyllus gallinae is the henhouse flea). Rabbits and dogs, on the other hand, have fleas.
The difference between fleas and red lice is that fleas live on the animal, whereas red lice only go on the animal at night and only to feed. Afterwards, it goes back into hiding. The treatment required is therefore not the same. And just because you have lice on your hens doesn't necessarily mean you'll have lice on your pigeons. The same goes for dogs and rabbits. They're not the same species and they don't particularly go on other mammals (except when they can't find anything to eat!!! ). As for the products to use, you'll find all the answers on our red lice page.
Q: I've been getting bitten by little bugs similar to red lice for a week now. It's probably due to the pigeon's nest that's currently on my balcony. I'd like to treat my whole flat with the "Insecticide 4J Concentrate" that you recommend. Can you tell me if I can also spray it on my mattress, clothes etc ?
A: 4J Insecticide is a contact insecticide that works very well against red lice. You can treat all surfaces with this product. It doesn't stain. Pyrethrum breaks down in a few hours. Depending on the concentration used, a greasy film of potassium soap may remain in the formula (which has an asphyxiating effect on larvae and eggs). This residue is in no way toxic and is perfectly washable (it's only soap). For clothes, the Ecodoo aerosol method is more effective. Take the clothes to be treated and put them in a large bin bag. Spray the inside of the bag with the aerosol and close the bag as tightly as possible. Wait 24 hours and reopen the bag. Depending on the type of textile, washing at 60°C or placing in the freezer can also give good results against the presence of this type of insect. And lastly, a word of advice: if you can, either treat the pigeons and their nest for red lice, or evacuate the nest and give the area a thorough cleaning.