Welcome to the wonderful world of Poultry Ticks (Argas persicus and A. sanchezi)
(under construction--let the itching commence)
In the first year of raising chickens here in Arizona, I discovered that my coop was infested with poultry ticks (also known as fowl ticks or blue bugs). I had never seen or even heard of them before and I decided to put this page together so that others could learn from my experience.
The first thing that drew my attention to the ticks were intact exoskeletons in the spider webs, but only below where the chickens roost. I then looked up below the roost and around the gap between the top two 2X4s of the coop were smears I recognized as feces from blood-sucking arthropods. I jabbed a putty knife I use for scraping the coop in between the boards and it came out covered in blood. I was then able to collect some intact specimens. Before I put my glasses on it seemed that they were bed-bugs. They were about the same size and seemed to have a similar behavioral pattern of hiding in crevices during the day and feeding on animals at night. After I was able to photograph it and look at it with my glasses on I realized it wasn't a bed bug (insect), but an arachnid (it has 8 legs). I sent the pics off to the local guy (University of AZ Entomology) who knows all about bugs and he immediately responded that they were a member of the soft-bodied ticks (Argasidae) Argas persicus. I then spoke with the great folks at the University of Arizona Veterinary Diagnostics Lab. and they said they were very common all along the southern tier of the U.S. Most people may never realize they have them because they feed at night and hide during the day. I certainly had never heard of a tick that fed repeatedly like they do. He also said they are transported by wild birds. I've since learned a lot about poultry ticks.
Signs you might have poultry ticks:
You may never see poultry ticks on your chickens. I closely examined my birds every week and never found a single tick or bite mark. However, the behavior of your chickens may give you the first clue that you have poultry ticks. Chickens living in tick-infested coops will suddenly appear agitated at roosting time and seem reluctant to go into the coop. Indeed, my birds were more aggressive towards one another and paced back and forth along the outside of the coop and were somewhat reluctant to go inside. This was odd, given that up until a month earlier, they were very happy with their roosting situation.
Look for dark burgundy-colored spots near cracks in the boards below your roosts. If you have ticks, most of them will be found within 12” below the board your birds roost on. They won’t be obvious, as they hide during the day. They will be found within cracks in the boards or crevices between boards.
It is unfortunate that they are called Poultry Ticks as they are found in wild birds and poultry alike. Their distribution is worldwide, occupying all but the coldest environments. Freezing temperatures kill the ticks, which limits northern (or southern) expansion. Poultry ticks are considered to be nidicolous, living primarily in the nest of their hosts, birds. Ticks can be found in most roosts of vultures, buzzards, and egrets, just to name a few, hiding during the day between the bark and the wood. Poultry ticks seek out crevices near the nesting/roosting area of their host. They require crevices or cracks in wood where most of their body surface can come in contact with the substrate. This limits predation, but most importantly, water loss. By limiting dehydration, they can reduce their metabolism and rest for very long periods of time. Poultry ticks have been known to survive as long as 4 years without feeding. This ability also allows them to occupy marginal or extreme environments; they do well in moist tropical environments but they are more common in deserts such as the South-west of the U.S. and drier regions of Australia.
The adult female lays her eggs deep in the crevice in which she hides and there they hatch. As tiny larvae, they crawl up onto the bird and feed for 7-10 days. Then they drop off the bird and seek out a crevice to live inside, guided to the best concealed spots by the pheromones released by congregating individuals. There they molt and begin the feeding cycle of eating at night and hiding during the day.
Effects on poultry:
Chronic tick infestation can lead to severe anemia resulting in reduced egg production, loss of body weight and depression. Toxins in the saliva of the tick can also cause Tick Paralysis, characterized by progressive ascending paralysis of the leg, wing, and respiratory system. Poultry ticks play intermediate host to a variety of pathogens, including Borrelia anserina, which causes Fowl Spirochetosis and Aegyptianella pullorum, which causes aegyptianellosis.
Poultry ticks need the crevices in which they hide during most of their lives; they need them to lay eggs in, to avoid desiccation and avoid predation--in short, to survive. So I set about to limit places in which the ticks could hide. I first removed all the roosts from the coop, board by board. Where ever two boards met, ticks were found in large numbers (see pic below). After removing a board, I carefully vacuumed the ticks with a shop-vac, trying not to lose any. After all the roosts were removed, I used a pressure washer and sprayed out the entire coop. After the coop dried, I used DAP 3.0 (crystal clear) to caulk every crevice in the coop. Everywhere two boards met together, I caulked. I also caulked every knothole. Right after I applied a bead of caulk, I wiped away the excess with a paper towel and then wiped with a wet cloth. The result was a seamless joint with no visible caulk for the chickens to peck.
I re-configured the roosts to a lower position, using a 2X6 and 2X4s placed on metal shelf brackets. Every seam between roosts and shelf bracket was fully caulked. The metal brackets allowed for limited contacts with the coop. By limiting the contact surface area between the coop and roosts, it makes it more difficult for pests that fall off a chicken to return to the roosting birds. I then sprayed the entire coop with Orange Guard. Orange guard is made from orange peel extract and is lethal upon contact to any arthropod. It can be purchased in one gallon jugs with a pump-spray hose from Ace Hardware. I then dusted the entire floor of the coop with DE, mixing it in with the dirt. I sprayed all around the roosts every day for about two weeks. The other benefit of the metal brackets is they are non-absorbent. The orange guard is somewhat oily and where it was absorbed by the wood, the metal brackets remained moist. This completely eliminated ticks from getting onto the roosts from anywhere but directly from the chickens.
I also carefully searched the coop every night for ticks over a three week period. I found many ticks over the first couple of days and killed all that I found. Nearly all were found on the top board of the walls of the coop. I found a few very tiny ticks on the roosts themselves. They were clearly the larvae having left after feeding for the initial 7-10 day period and leaving the chicken for the first time. I never found a tick on the roost after the first week. I also found a tick two weeks after initial treatment. Note that it can take some time for the ticks that were lost during the initial purging to find their way back. After more than two months, the coop has been tick-free.
Demonstrated insecticidal (acaricidal) treatments for poultry ticks:
Permethrin (pyrethroid-neurotoxin), carbaryl (Sevin), coumaphos (organophosphate), malathion (maldison, organphosphate), stirofos (organophosphate). Of these, Permethrin is considered to be the most effective against poultry ticks.
Here is what they look like from above and underneath. The first picture one that has recently fed and the second picture is one that has not.
At the time of my tick infestation, my girls roosted on a wire shelf and the 2X4 edge I made at the top of the coop. All the ticks I found in the coop were within 1' of this wire roost. Everywhere two boards overlapped, ticks were found. The crevice between the top 2X4s and the 2X6s of the coop walls also harbored ticks. Even the cracks at knots in the wood held ticks. None of these ticks were visible during the day.
Here is what I found everywhere two boards of the roosts overlapped.
After removing the roosts and caulking, I re-built the roosts using metal shelf brackets to hold up the 2X6 and 2X4s. The roosts are only connected to one another and to the coop through the brackets (they don't touch the walls).
It's been nearly five years since I first discovered the ticks. The experience of the first tick event was enough to make me very vigilant and I now check for them at least once a week, especially during the spring and summer. Over those years the ticks came back every Aug./Sept. and twice in April/May. I believe they find their way to the coop after being brought in by wild birds that nest in the eucalyptus tree growing over the coop. Because there are no crevices for them to hide in, they were easily found and I never found more than a few on any given re-appearance. When I find them I kill them and spray the roosting area with Orange Guard. That almost always got rid of them until the following year.