Fleas: How do they impact poultry


Fleas are occasionally found in the poultry house. They are usually first noticed in the litter, where a wide range of hosts are attached, including rats, mice, chickens and people. Bites annoying egg handlers occur primarily on the ankles and legs, causing a swollen itchy spot.

The adult flea, an excellent jumper, passes through a complete life cycle consisting of egg, larva, pupa and adult. The life cycle varies from 2 weeks to 8 months, depending on temperature, humidity, food and species.

The most common flea found in Texas is the cat fleaCtenocephalides felis. The adult is 1⁄16 to 1⁄8 inch long, dark reddish-brown, wingless and hard-bodied. It has three pairs of legs and is flattened vertically (like a bluegill fish).

The sticktight or southern chicken fleaEchidnophaga gallinacean, is found in the southern United States from South Carolina to California. It attacks poultry, cats, dogs, horses and people.

Adult males and females are found on the heads of fowl. The females remain attached by their mouth parts in the same spot as long as 2 or 3 weeks. During this time, eggs are laid, being thrown with considerable force from the female’s vagina. The eggs hatch on the ground in 2 days to 2 weeks. fleasThe slender white larvae feed on excreta of the adult fleas, filth in cracks or litter on the poultry house floor or on the ground in dry, protected places. After growing for 2 weeks to 1 month, they spin silken cocoons and molt to the pupal stage.

The adults attach to the host in about a week, and females feed for about 1 week before laying eggs. One to five eggs are laid at one time. The life cycle may be completed in 1 to 2 months. This pest thrives in dry, cool weather, and under these conditions adults may live for several months.

In the South and Southwest, fleas sometimes embed themselves in clusters about the face, eyes, ear lobes, comb and wattles of poultry so that they cannot be brushed off. Young fowls are often killed; egg production and growth are reduced because of the loss of blood and irritation caused by the bites.

For more information on flea control, see Texas Cooperative Extension publication E-433, Controlling Fleas.

By: Jeffery K. Tomberlin and Bart Drees