Scaly Leg treatments that end Knemidocoptes lifecycle


These are the four major ways of ending the lifecycle of scaly leg mites.

1. Oral medication to kill mites that feed on blood.

  • e.g. ivermectin, moxidectin

2. Paralyze the mites on contact to kill the mites.

  • e.g. insecticide
  • e.g. carbaryl  sold under brand name Sevin
  • e.g. permethrin, cypermethrin

3. Dry out the mites to kill the mites.

  • e.g. petrol fuel, 91% alcohol

4. Suffocate the mites to kill the mites.

  • e.g. motor oil, petroleum jelly, cooking oil

Read below to learn more about the scaly leg mites lifecycle and how to end it.

– Gameness til the End

Scaly Leg

Scaly leg is a disease of chickens and other birds. It is caused by a parasitic mite Knemidocoptes mutans. The mite burrows under the scales in the bird’s legs, but may also infest other areas, such as the comb or wattles of chickens. The mite spends its entire lifecycle on the birds and is usually spread by direct contact.

Birds infested with scaly leg have raised or protruding scales, sometimes with a white crusty appearance. Scaly leg is irritating to the infected bird, and in extreme cases can result in lameness.

In domestic birds the disease may be treated by application of an oily substance such as petroleum jelly, vegetable oil, or a commercial chest rub, thus preventing the mites breathing.

Alternatively an insecticide may be used to kill the mites – or the two methods may be combined.

The loose crusty scales may also be removed by soaking the afflicted bird’s legs in soapy water mixed with diluted ammonia, and the encrusted areas scrubbed gently with a soft brush.

Complete removal may take multiple treatments. Dropped scales may remain infectious for up to a month, and so pen, perches, and nesting areas may also be treated, or birds may be moved to different housing for several weeks.



Knemidocoptes are burrowing mites of avian species. There are a number of important species infecting both production birds and pet animals. The mites tend to infect unfeathered areas of birds and so commonly cause scale as a clinical sign. Spread of these mites occurs from prolonged close contact between birds, such as occurs between a mother and unfeathered young.

Knemidocoptes is the only genus of burrowing mite found in birds. There are three main species of Knemidocoptes that affect birds and these are K. mutans, K. gallinae and K. pilae, which all cause different disease manifestations and clinical signs.


Knemidocoptes are small round mites found in different locations on avian species dependent on the species of mite present. They have a stumpy legged appearance as their coxa are sunk into the body and a U-shaped chitinous bar found behind the head.

Unlike other burrowing mites, that have pediculated suckers, the tarsal portions of Knemidocoptes mites have claw like structures and tactile hairs. They may look similar to Sarcoptes spp. however they lack pegs and have dorsal striations instead. The mites breath through their cuticles and therefore are astigmata. The presence of a terminal anus can also be used as a distinguishing feature.

Life Cycle

The entire life cycle takes place on a single host and takes between 14 and 21 days to complete. The mite is spread by close contact with an infected animal, however it can survive for a limited time off the host. Mating occurs on the host, a mature male will leave its moulting pocket and seek a female either on the skin or in a moulting pocket. The females are ovo-viviparous meaning that they give birth to live larval young. Once fertilised the female will create a burrow in the upper layers of the epidermis, the larvae will be laid in this burrow and move to the skin surface.

Knemidocoptes mites have hexapod larvae. They burrow into the skin creating moulting pockets and undergo two nymphal stages before reaching maturity.

Clinical Signs

Signs are dependent on which mite is present:

K. gallinae

The disease associated with this mite is called depluming itch. Mites burrow into the feather shafts and cause intense pruritus and pain, so much so that the bird will pull out its feathers. Therefore clinical signs include loss of feathers by self trauma, depression, intense pre-occupation in pulling out feathers. The bird will often not eat and will appear to lose weight.

K. mutans

The disease caused by this mite is called scaly leg. This specie of mite burrows beneath leg scales and causes them to loosen and rise. Clinical signs will include the bird having distorted legs and claws and may appear lame. The bird may also be paying particular attention to their legs and may show signs of pruritus.

K. pilae

The disease associated with this mite is called scaly beak (scaly face in psittacine birds) and is caused when the mites burrow into feathered parts of the beak and into the lightly feathered areas of the face and body. Clinical signs will include loss of feathers and scaliness around the base of the beak and spreading over the face. There may be mild pruritus but not as severe as other forms in the genus.

Not all infections of Knemidocoptes mite result in clinical signs, some may lay dormant for until the animal is stressed or is otherwise immunocompromised.


History and clinical signs are very suggestive of the disease. A deep skin scraping is required to identify the mites and this should be performed by scraping the skin until capillary blood is seen. Feather pluck may also prove useful.

Treatment and Control

There are few licensed acaracidal treatments for poultry. Repeated treatment with one of the licensed treatments is necessary to cure this disease. Prophylactic acaracidal treatment can be used for prevention.


Jordan, F, Pattison, M, Alexander, D, Faragher, T, (1999) Poultry Disease (Fifth edition), W.B. Saunders

Merck & Co (2008) The Merck Veterinary Manual (Eighth Edition), Merial

Randell, C.J, (1985) Disease of the Domestic Fowl and TurkeyWolfe Medical Publication Ltd

Saif, Y.M, (2008) Disease of Poultry (Twelfth edition) Blackwell Publishing

Taylor, M A, Coop, R L & Wall, R L (2007) Veterinary Parasitology Blackwell Publishing


Acaricides are pesticides that kill members of the arachnid subclass Acari, which includes ticks and mites. Acaricides are used both in medicine and agriculture, although the desired selective toxicity differs between the two fields.


More specific words are sometimes used, depending upon the targeted group:

  • “Ixodicides” are substances that kill ticks.
  • “Miticides” are substances that kill mites.
  • The term scabicide is more narrow, and refers to agents specifically targeting Sarcoptes.
  • The term “arachnicide” is more general, and refers to agents that target arachnids. This term is used much more rarely, but occasionally appears in informal writing.

As a practical matter, mites are a paraphyletic grouping, and mites and ticks are usually treated as a single group.


Examples include:

  • Permethrin can be applied as a spray. The effects are not limited to mites: lice, cockroaches, fleas, mosquitos, and other insects will be affected. Permethrin, however, is not known to seriously harm most mammals or birds, as it has a low mammalian toxicity and is poorly absorbed by skin. However, permethrin is toxic and potentially fatal to cats.
  • Ivermectin can be prescribed by a medical doctor to rid humans of mite and lice infestations, and agricultural formulations are available for infested birds and rodents.
  • Antibiotic miticides
  • Carbamate miticides
  • Dienochlor miticides
  • Formamidine miticides
  • Organophosphate miticides
  • Diatomaceous earth will also kill mites by disrupting their cuticles, which dries out the mites.
  • Dicofol, a compound structurally related to the insecticide DDT, is a miticide that is effective against the red spider mite Tetranychus urticae.
  • Lime sulfur is effective against sarcoptic mange. It is made by mixing hydrated lime, sulfur, and water, and boiling for about 1 hour. Hydrated lime can bond with about 1.7 its weight of sulfur. (Quicklime can bond with as much as 2.2 times its weight of sulfur). The strongest concentrate is diluted 1:32 before saturating the skin (avoiding the eyes), applied at six-day intervals.
  • Nonpesticide miticides act by causing desiccation, but are not a diatomaceous earth (which contain crystalline silica, potentially dangerous by inhalation), but made from a patented mix of food-grade components, one to breach the cuticle and one to ensure rapid, reliable desiccation. They can be dusted as powder or sprayed in aqueous solution.
  • A variety of commercially available systemic and non-systemic miticides:

Acaricides are also being used in attempts to stop rhinoceros poaching. Holes are drilled into the horn of a sedated rhino and acaricide is pumped in and pressurized. Should the horn be consumed by humans as in traditional Chinese medicine, it is expected to cause nausea, stomach-ache and diarrhea, or convulsions, depending on the quantity, but not fatalities. Signs posted at wildlife refuges that the rhinos therein have been treated are thus expected to deter poaching. The original idea grew out of research into using the horn as a reservoir for one-time tick treatments; the acaricide is selected to be safe for the rhino, oxpeckers, vultures, and other animals in the preserve’s ecosystem.

What’s gnawing on you? : Scaly Leg Mite


If your poultry’s legs look crusty and rough, you most likely have an infestation of Knemidocoptes Mutans. It’s a very common issue in poultry and it can be found in birds other than just domestic fowl. Many times the origin of the infection was due to contact with a wild bird or exotic pet bird. If left untreated severe cases can result in loss of toes, disfigurement and serious discomfort, so let’s take a look at this ectoparasite.

This is not a new problem for farmers and it should come as no surprise that there are effective methods using common products available everywhere. Some are a little dated, some are dangerous and others can be messy, but all of them are undoubtedly effective.

K. Mutans, also known as Scaly Leg Mite is a microscopic critter that burrows under the scales of poultry and makes it’s self at home on your bird.

There are very few approved medications to treat birds and these require guidance from a Veterinarian (and good luck finding a local chicken Vet).

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, Individual birds can be treated with oral or topical ivermectin or moxidectin (0.2 mg/kg), 10% sulphur solution, or 0.5% sodium fluoride.

As an FYI, the Food and Drug Administration (aka, the FDA) does not approve these medications for use in poultry intended for food production. Don’t use these products without consulting a Vet! Using these products in this manner is considered off label use and should only be used under direction and guidance of  licensed Veterinarian.

Did I mention you should talk to a Vet? OK, I’ll get off my soap box now…

This is not a new problem for farmers and it should come as no surprise that there are effective methods using common products available everywhere. Some are a little dated, some are dangerous and others can be messy, but all of them are undoubtedly effective.

Petrol fuel:

  • diesel, #2 heating oil, alcohol (no, not the good whiskey… possibly the cheap vodka however, or 91% rubbing alcohol), mineral spirits and gasoline are all effective yet toxic and dangerous products that are effective against Scaly Leg Mites. Using it as a leg dip it will dry out the skin and the mites, effectively killing them by dehydration. Diesel and heating oil may also leave a film of oil on the skin to help suffocate any mites that survive the initial attack.
  • Be forewarned: this method has some serious human and bird health risks, not to mention the risk of burning down your coop using this method. PS; I wouldn’t be smoking if I were you. I don’t use nor do I recommend this method. If you do something stupid involving these methods: I warned you, so don’t blame me!

Motor Oil:

  • being a thicker substance than it’s fuel-grade counter parts, petroleum based oil does not dry out the mites but instead suffocates them when applied. This is more commonly used on roosts to kill mites that are either in or on the roost bars. Again, oil is flammable so take care if you decide to use it. Again, not my preferred method!

Petroleum Jelly:

  • An even thicker substance form the petrol based list is Petroleum jelly, widely known as Vaseline®. Having been used as a skin product (amongst other things) for years, it’s reasonable to regard Vaseline as a safer alternative to the other petrol products. Be aware, just like the other products in this class it is flammable, it’s just not quite as easily ignited as other petrol products. Use a generous coating on the bird’s legs to suffocate the mites.
  • Added bonuses of Vaseline is A) it softens the hard crusty scales and helps return them to normal B) is effective and reasonably safe C) Inexpensive and readily available D) leaves you with well moisturised hands once you’ve treated an entire flock! Petroleum Jelly is my preferred method and the method I recommend to flock owners, but it’s not the only method available to you.

Cooking Oils:

  • Canola, Olive and other common cooking oils will also work well to smother mites. These oils do have the bonus of having a viscosity that allows you to use them in a spray bottle or spray doc (Like the ones they use for pesticide and weed killer) for convenient treatment. Yes, petrol fuel could be used in a spray but they tend to be reactive to plastics, so your sprayer will likely be destroyed quickly.
  • These cooking oils can also be used as a dip but an even better use for them is roost coating: use it either as a spray or like a paint and smother your roosts to help control mites. Just be aware, it may be a vegetable oil, but it’s still inherently flammable.

Which ever method you decide to use; remember the fact that the mite’s life cycle is completed in 14 to 21 days, so be sure to re-treat around 21 days to catch any of the mites you may have missed. Several follow up treatments with petrol jelly will help bring the legs back to a normal look. Scales that have been shed can still carry the mite, so consider cleaning your coop to remove any infected material. Just treating the birds may not be enough, so be sure to address the roost bars and nest boxes. Painting wooden surfaces are an effective way of sealing in and eliminating mites but odds are your birds will leave little white foot prints everywhere they go, so using an oil may be a better option for an active coop.

Scaly leg mite is a common problem that plagues the average chicken enthusiast, so don’t be surprised if this crops up in your flock. Thankfully it’s more of an annoyance than a critical issue but I would encourage you to treat your birds sooner rather than later to avoid unnecessary stress to the bird. These are just the most common products frequently used to treat Scaly Leg Mite, but most products that either suffocate or desiccate the mite should offer some level of effectiveness.

More reads on Scaly Leg

  1. Scaly Leg and Face Mite Infestations Why They Happen & What To Do Part One . The Holistic Hen Blog
  2. Natural Treatment for Scaly Leg Mites in Chickens. Fresh Eggs Daily Blog
  3. Scaly Leg Mite Treatment – With Photos. Willow Creek Farm Blog
  4. Treating scaly leg mite in chickens! . The Practical Frog Blog

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