Prevention and Control of Darkling Beetles in Poultry Houses

by Caitlyn Andrews February 14, 2017

Control Beetles and Mealworms in Poultry Houses

If you're in the poultry industry then chances are you've encountered darkling beetles. These little pests also go by the name of lesser mealworms or black beetles. Whatever you call them, they are one of the most common pests in poultry facilities. Darkling beetles can be present in alarmingly high numbers and cause significant damage to facilities and productivity.

Darkling Beetles in a Poultry House

Pictured Above: Darkling beetle infestation in a poultry house. Photo credit.

For their size, these little beetles pack a big punch in the form of damages to poultry operations. You'll often find them in the bedding litter material in poultry house floors. Here are four ways that darkling beetles can cause damage:

Darkling Beetle Damages to Poultry Facilities

  1. Facility Damage: Darkling beetles can cause damage to almost every part of a poultry facility. They can burrow into wood structures and tunnel through insulation. They can cause damage to sill sealers and vapor barriers. They can even create spaces between walls, concrete, and flooring.
  2. Disease Vectors: Darkling beetles can carry diseases such as E. coli, turkey coronavirus, Salmonella, Marek's disease virus, Newcastle disease virus, poultry tapeworms, infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV), astrovirus, RSS orthoreovirus, and coccidiosis protozoa.
  3. Direct Damage to Poultry: Poultry can be directly, negatively affected by darkling beetles in the facility. Aside from carrying diseases, darkling beetles may also pester the birds, causing excess movement and reducing feed efficiency. Poultry that feed on the pests instead of provided feed are suspect to lower bird nutrition. Beetles are filling, but not as nutritious as the feed provided. They are also known to crawl on the birds when deprived of moisture and chew at the base of the feathers. The skin bites can be mistaken for skin leukosis at the processing plants. The bites also predispose the birds to certain diseases. In cases of heavy infestation, the beetles are known to kill weakened chicks in their pursuit of food and moisture.
  4. Feed Loss: These beetles can consume a significant amount of poultry feed. They can be found in stored grains and seeds such as wheat, rice, soybeans, and barley. Spilled feed can attract a darkling beetle infestation.

Darkling Beetle Overview

Darkling Beetle Behavior:
    • Populations often congregate in large areas
    • Burrow deeper into litter during cold weather
    • Migrate into the soil and insulation when birds are absent
    • Present where birds are
    • Nocturnal, but can be active any time of day
Darkling Beetle Life Cycle:
    • 4 Life Stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult
    • On average, darkling beetles can complete development from eggs to adults in about a month in warmer temperatures and up to 164 days in colder temperatures
    • Egg hatch and larval development are not known to occur below 62.6° F
    • Typical life cycles last from 2 months up to one year
    • Females can lay up to 800 eggs in a 42 day period

How to Prevent a Darkling Beetle Infestation

Practicing good management and biosecurity measures can help ward off a darkling beetle infestation.

1. Water: Darkling beetles need water to thrive. Check your pipes and waterers for leaks. You could unintentionally be providing a welcoming environment for darkling beetles.

2. Feed Storage: Spilled feed or poorly stored feed can help start a beetle infestation. Practice good sanitation and keep your facility clean to discourage beetles.

3. Litter Management: Keep the litter in your poultry houses dry. As mentioned above, waterers should be checked frequently for leaks. Remove any wet bedding. Large operations should completely remove litter at least every 2 - 3 months.

4. Insecticide Rotation: Darkling beetles can build up a resistance to many insecticides. It's important to have an integrated pest management (IPM) plan in place that addresses darkling beetle resistance. Veterinary and Poultry Supply customers can speak with their salesperson to discuss an insecticide rotation program best suited to their facility.

5. Flock Down Time: Keep a downtime of at least 2 weeks between flocks to completely clean and disinfect the building and equipment. This downtime can also be used to apply empty-barn residual insecticides. We'll discuss these insecticides below.

How to Control a Darkling Beetle Infestation

If you already have a darkling beetle infestation then you need to address the problem as quickly as possible. Darkling beetles can be controlled effectively with the application of insecticides. These insecticides fall into two categories:

Category 1, Insecticides Applied to the Animals: On-animal insecticides are safe to apply while live birds are in the barn. Most on-animal insecticides are of natural origins, such as pyrethrins and spinosyns. Some can even be used in organic poultry production. These insecticides are designed to quickly kill darkling beetles without leaving a residue. Be sure to follow application instructions on the product label.

Category 2, Residual Insecticides Applied to Empty Barns: This category of insecticides should only be applied in empty barns when no live birds are present. As mentioned above, these insecticides are best utilized during a flock down time. Solid insecticides, such as boric acid, can be applied with a drop spreader. Dust insecticides, such as Tempo 1% Dust Insecticide and Rabon 50 WP, should be applied using appropriate dusting equipment as recommended on the product label. Most residual insecticides for empty barns are effective against adult and larval stage darkling beetles. They are also longer lasting than insecticides designed to be applied with live animals.

Consult with the supplier of your insecticides to determine what application is best for your situation. Be sure to apply the entire recommended amount. Not applying enough insecticide can lead to resistance.

For more information on the impact and control of darkling beetles, see this informative brochure by Elanco.

Try Credo SC Insecticide for darkling beetle control!

Caitlyn Andrews
Caitlyn Andrews


1 Response

Meggs Eggs
Meggs Eggs

August 25, 2018

I’m having problems with these little buggers! I’m a small egg production company. Do you have any suggestions of what products work best? I have tried Rabon, And it didn’t do much. The ladies are free range with all day access to the barn. So I can’t kick them out for any length if time.

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