Also known as starling mite or tropical fowl mite, a bird mite is a tiny eight legged parasite that feeds mainly on the blood of its host. This barely visible organism is flatly shaped and translucently white in color. However, when a bird mite infest on blood, it could turn to a brown/red color. Due to the smallness of its size and shape, the bird mite is often been wrongly referred to as ‘bird lice’.
Although, bird mites are classified under a group of arthropods because they share the similar morphological resemblance, they however differentiate widely in habits and ecologies. Botanically, bird mites are known as Ornithonyssus bursa and are derived from the mites’ family of Macronyssidae.
The lifecycle of the bird mites revolves around five stages: from the egg, to the larva, the ptoyonymph, the deutonymph and then finally to the adult stage. Except with the aid of a magnifying lens, mite eggs, larvae and nymphs cannot be seen with the naked eyes. Bird mites have the potential to exponentially multiply since they could develop within the space of two weeks.
As a piercing and sucking insects, bird mites do bite because they have got specialized needlelike mouthparts (pediculosis) which are adapted for piercing through the skin of their bird hosts to suck blood. The presence of a bird host facilitates the rapid development of most bird mite species. Migration only occurs at the death of the bird host or when over population takes place. It is during this process of migrating and the search of an alternative host that people’s homes become infected.
The infectious activities of bird mites are rampant during the sessions of the late spring and early summer. It is during this humid session that most birds begin to brood thereby drastically increasing the number of bird nests. It is in these nests that these extremely destructive arthropods often find shelter.
D. Gallinae is a notorious bird mite specie that has proven to be difficult to eradicate. It could grow strong resistance to miticide chemical and can survive long period of food scarcity. However, not every species of bird mite can survive more than a few days when a food source is absent or lacking. Although bird mites have been known to carry out attacks on humans, it does not always last for long as they only do this while in search of a new host.
As a highly efficient mobile organism, these unpleasant biting mites can be easily identified while in motion. They are usually found in regions that are warm where host birds such as pigeons, starlings, poultry, Indian mynahs and sparrows (which are their preferred hosts) can be found.
Bird mites are nocturnal parasites i.e. they are more active at night. It is only when their source of food has been depleted or has left the nest that they can find their way into living spaces to search for meal. It is at this point that they begin to bite humans. When a person is bitten by a bird mite, he can experience itching, severe irritation, discomfort and swelling. Reddish spots can begin to form on the skin while infections can be experienced as a result of scratching. These symptoms are often experienced when bird mites’ saliva gets transmitted into the skin during the process of biting.
Many mites in their numbers (often in thousands and tens of thousands) are left behind to fend for themselves when the young birds die or leave the nest. If a new bird host is not found within the space of about three weeks most bird mites will die because they cannot survive on humans. They only bite humans out of aggression and not for to the sake of feeding. Besides a female mite needs to feed on the blood of a bird host so as to be able to reproduce.
The large collection of debris and other materials employed by birds to build their nests provides bird mites with an ideal environment to operate in. These blood sucking parasites can feed on both unfeathered nestlings and chicks and also on matured birds.
Usually, bird mites live in either birds nest or on the skin of a bird in between its feathers. However, these parasites could be very adaptable and could be found on the skin of other animals especially mammals such as rats and mice. This implies that even with the absence of a bird nesting around, people and other mammals could be hit by an infestation from these parasites.
It has been scientifically discovered that bird mites get themselves engaged during the day by laying their eggs while they come out to feed at night. Due to the tininess of bird mites, it is very difficult to see them with the human eye. It is only when they bite and a pricking pain is felt that their presence can be ascertained. However, some people are sensible enough to detect their movement (crawling) on their body.
When their bird host is dead or gone, they can easily find their way into a dwelling place and infest furniture and wooden flooring. Besides the biting they inflict on man and the aftermath of their bite that is often experienced, bird mites can be vectors of avian diseases which can be transferred to humans. Example is the Newcastle disease.
The control of bird mites could be a very challenging task because these mites can develop immunity against pesticides. So, a professional pest control service might be required to get rid of them.