Now is the time for smallholders to be looking out for “sticktight fleas”, particularly on their chickens.

Echidnophaga gallinacea is a genus of flea that gets its common name from the fact that the female remains attached to the host, similar to a tick.

The sticktight flea is found worldwide and in South Africa the only province that it is not found in is Northern Cape.

sticktight fleas on poultry
The female fleas hang onto the host.

Description of the sticktight flea

It is a small flea, with a body length of 2-3mm. The sticktight has a flattened body like other fleas. However, it has special mouth parts ~ stiletto shaped cutting extensors of the maxilla region. They sue them to embed themselves in the host’s body.

It is also known as poultry or hen flea, because of its habit of clustering on the faces of chickens. We can also find this flea on other birds, dogs, cats, people and other mammals, including wild animals such as warthogs and elephants.

Large numbers of the flea may congregate around the eyes, comb, wattles, and other naked skin on poultry ~ these are difficult to dislodge as their heads are embedded deep below the host’s skin. Young chickens or ducklings are most at risk from sticktight fleas.

You will notice that the hens often shake their heads or scratch at their faces and necks and generally look out of sorts ~ which is hardly surprising.

If uncontrolled, even amongst adult poultry, they cause anaemia, loss of condition, severe skin irritation and sometimes death.

When feeding, female fleas can remain attached for up to six weeks at a single site on the host, causing ulceration at the attachment site. Males feed intermittently. The female lays eggs in the ulcers on the host’s skin. The larvae drop to the ground and feed on any organic debris that they can find.

How to get rid of sticktight fleas

Where you are dealing with poultry infestation, it is important to clean out the fowl shed, removing all loose items of equipment and the litter. Clean up all debris in the yards and burn this rubbish and the litter.

Then sprinkle the whole area with diatomaceous earth or an insecticide dusting powder containing carbaryl (carbamate) or spray with an insecticide designed to kill fleas.

Create a hollow in the ground and fill it with diatomaceous earth, where the chickens can dust themselves.

Getting rid of the fleas from the heads of your poor chickens is quite a challenge. You can use diatomaceous earth, but take care not to allow the birds to inhale the powder, as this will damage their lungs. Sprinkle some in your hand and then rub it onto the face with a finger. Obviously try hard not to get it into the eyes. You can do the same with an insecticide dusting powder that contains carbamate.

sticktight fleas on poultry
Sticktight fleas on a hen’s face.

You can try sprays made from natural ingredients such as garlic, lemon and marigold. Again you must prevent inhalation, so you will have to spray it onto your finger and then apply it.

Another remedy that is often suggested is smearing the infected parts of the birds with a non-burning greasy substance such as petroleum jelly (for example Vaseline). Once fleas jump on an area saturated with Vaseline, they get stuck, they can’t jump away and will die either due to starvation, or suffocation.

You might need to repeat the treatment more than once.

Sticktight fleas on pets

Medications for dogs with a flea infestation vary in effectiveness. Orally administered insecticides work better than topical powders. Ask your veterinarian about a long-lasting pill containing fluralaner.

Cats and dogs can also be powdered with insecticide dusting powder. Comb cats  afterwards with a flea comb.

Pets’ bedding must also be washed.

To read other articles about poultry click here.

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