Stickfast fleas: control and eradication

Page last updated: Monday, 21 May 2018 - 2:11pm

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The stickfast flea, first recorded in Western Australia (WA) at Geraldton in 1913, is now a common disease in backyard poultry flocks, especially during summer. It appeared in the Perth area as a pest for poultry in the 1920s.

It later became a serious problem for the poultry industry in WA. However with the introduction of and wide use of concrete floors in poultry sheds incidences of stickfast flea in the commercial poultry industry have become very limited. Stickfast fleas are rarely seen on larger farms today.

Stickfast flea life history

The complete life cycle of the flea takes about four weeks, varying according to the temperature. The female fleas lay at night while attached to the bird, and the very small eggs fall to the ground. In about four days, small wormlike larvae emerge from the eggs.

The larvae feed on organic material, mainly the dried blood excreted by the adult fleas, and shelter in the surface dust and litter on the soil. After several moults, they grow to about three millimetres, cease to feed and burrow down into the soil to a depth of about 15 centimetres. Here they spin silken cocoons within which they develop into adult fleas. This last stage takes about two weeks. Then the adult fleas emerge, burrow their way to the surface and search for a host.

Hosts

The stickfast flea is found on all classes of poultry and also on native birds. Young chickens or ducklings are most at risk from stickfast fleas and cases have been reported where young birds have died as a result of severe infestation.

Dogs, cats, horses, rabbits and numerous native animals also spread the flea and it has also been reported as affecting humans.

Visual evidence

Poultry usually show evidence of infection on the comb, wattles and face. With a heavy infestation, the greater part of the head may appear black. During the autumn when the fowls moult, the fleas may sometimes be seen under the wings, on the breast and around the vent.

The fleas bury their mouth parts in the flesh, breathe through the rear portion, and remain fixed in position for the remainder of their life, appearing as dense shiny black masses. They are light brown to brownish black, the male flea being smaller and darker than the female.

Prevention and control

  • Providing an impervious, preferably concrete, floor in the poultry shed will effectively break the life cycle, since the female flea lays her eggs only at night while attached to the fowl and the larvae must pupate under 15 centimetres of soil.
  • It is important that all birds roost at night in the shed over the impervious floor, so that there is a total break in the life cycle of the flea.
  • Do not bring any infected birds or animals onto your property.
  • The adult fleas may be controlled by smearing the infected parts of the birds with a non-burning greasy substance such as petroleum jelly (for example Vaseline).
  • Birds can also be treated with a 0.5 per cent solution of maldison. Use a pump action spray bottle (similar to those used to clean windows) to administer the solution.
  • Poultry dust containing 20 grams per kilogram maldison can be used.
  • 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 thoroughly spray the shed and run with a 3 per cent solution of maldison. Apply the spray in all cracks, crevices and corners of the shed and thoroughly spray all equipment as well. Also spray the run, especially around trees and posts.
  • Spray again after 12 days as above, to kill freshly emerging adults.

Preparing the sprays

Maldison products registered for use on poultry and poultry runs are available as formulations containing maldison at 500 grams per litre. These are available from your rural supplier or your veterinarian.

Sprays should be mixed and used according to label instructions.

Poultry dust containing maldison is also registered and available.

Withholding periods should be observed.

Details are available at Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.

Further information

For further information please contact your local veterinarian or Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) veterinary officer by visiting the Livestock Biosecurity program contacts page.

 

Disclaimer: Mention of trade names does not imply endorsement or preference of any company’s product by Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development. Recommendations are current at the time this page was published.

Author

Emily Glass