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Merck Manual

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Fleas of Poultry


James R. Philips

, PhD, Math/Science Division, Babson College

Last full review/revision Oct 2013 | Content last modified Oct 2013

The sticktight flea, Echidnophaga gallinacea, is a major poultry pest in the subtropical and tropical New World. It is unique among poultry fleas in that the adults become sessile parasites and usually remain attached to the skin of the head or anus for days or weeks. The adult females forcibly eject their eggs so that they reach surrounding litter. The larvae develop best in sandy, well-drained litter. Hosts of the adult flea include chickens, turkeys, pigeons, pheasants, quail, people, and many other mammals. Fleas cause irritation, restlessness, and blood loss that results in anemia and death, particularly in young birds. Bites around the eyes can cause ulcerations, resulting in blindness.

The Western chicken flea, or black hen flea, Ceratophyllus niger, seems to be confined to the Pacific coast area of the USA and Canada. This flea breeds in droppings and feeds on birds only occasionally. The European chicken flea, C gallinae, is found worldwide. It breeds in nests and litter and is on the birds only to feed. In addition to chickens, it attacks many other birds as well as people and domestic pets. Heavy flea infestations cause host emaciation and reduced egg production.

The most important flea control measures are removing infested litter and dusting the litter surface with carbaryl, coumaphos, malathion, or pyrethroids to kill immature fleas. Insect growth regulators such as methoprene are also effective. Sticktight fleas can be controlled by topical application of pyrethrin.

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