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J Econ Entomol. 2016 Dec 1;109(6):2572-2579. doi: 10.1093/jee/tow165.

Timing Diatomaceous Earth-Filled Dustbox Use for Management of Northern Fowl Mites (Acari: Macronyssidae) in Cage-Free Poultry Systems.

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Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521 (;


Northern fowl mite management on conventionally caged birds relies on synthetic pesticide sprays to wet the vent. Cage-free chickens cannot be effectively treated this way, and pesticide use is restricted in organic production. Dustbathing behavior is encouraged in newer production systems for increased hen welfare. Diatomaceous earth (DE) is an approved organic insecticide that can be mixed with sand in dustboxes, suppressing mites but not excluding them, and potentially allowing development of mite immunity. We tested two hypotheses: 1) that DE-filled dustboxes placed before northern fowl mite introduction (prophylactic use) prevents mite populations from reaching economically damaging thresholds, and 2) that bird exposure to low mite numbers allows for protective hen immunity to develop and suppress mites after dustboxes are removed. We also tested if different beak trimming techniques (a commercial practice) affect mite growth. Mites were introduced to birds after dustboxes were made available. Average mite densities in flocks remained below damaging levels while dustboxes were available. Average mite populations rebounded after dustbox removal (even though DE persisted in the environment) regardless of the timing of removal. Mite densities on birds where a traditional hot-blade beak trimming technique was used (trial 1) were high. Mite densities in trial 2, where a newer precision infra-red trimming was used, were lower. The newer infra-red trimming method resulted in nearly intact beaks, which were better for mite control by bird grooming behaviors. The combination of early dustbox use and infra-red beak trimming should allow producers to avoid most mite damage in cage-free flocks.


Northern fowl mite; cultural control; dustbathing; integrated pest management; organic

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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