Chickens are susceptible to many varieties of pests and parasites. But a small black bug that originates in sub-Saharan Africa has turned out to be a particular problem, as it thrives in the dark, ammonia-rich confines of a poultry house. The darkling beetle, also known as a litter beetle, is a prolific breeder, with as many as 1,000 beetles per square yard found in a heavily infested poultry house.
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Darkling beetles are black or a dark reddish brown. The adult beetles are about 1/4 inch long but in their larval stage are three times that big. They have no natural predators in the United States. A female darkling beetle can produce 500 to 800 eggs in her lifetime, depositing their yellow-brown larvae in dark corners of the poultry house. Adult beetles can live for a year.
The beetles not only spread disease among chickens, they also work their way into the walls of poultry houses and cause structural damage. They eat chicken feed as well, and can have a noticeable impact on supplies as their numbers grow. In particularly heavy infestations, darkling beetles have even been known to kill a weakened chick in the hunt for moisture and food.
Hard to Eradicate
Getting rid of a beetle infestation is a difficult task. In states where poultry raising is a major business, the common practice is to remove all the chickens from the building, clean it thoroughly, and then leave it to sit empty and open through a cold winter. A number of insecticides are available for treating an infestation. A 2007 article in the "Poultry Engineering, Economics and Management" newsletter recommends rotating through the different varieties as part of a regular control regimen to prevent resistance developing in beetles.
Not all little black bugs in the poultry house will turn out to be darkling beetles. Poultry mites are also small and dark, approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch long. But while darkling beetles have six legs, mites have eight. Experts recommend a thorough cleaning of all poultry houses at least twice a year to prevent infestations of all types and to maintain the health of the flock.
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