The great outdoors teems with all sorts of insect life, many beneficial to the environment and delectable to poultry tastebuds. Avian appetites have limits, however: Some creepy-crawlies exist that even chickens won’t eat. These insects occasionally make themselves right at home in the henhouse, where they flourish safe from predation. The resulting swarm might be harmless to our hens, but it definitely irritates us. Read on for a brief information about three common coop invaders and ways to control these pests.
Asian Lady Beetles
Often called ladybugs, Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis, pictured above) are actually relative newcomers to the United States. Native to Japan, Korea and China, the Asian lady beetle was introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture about 50 years ago to combat aphids and other insects damaging agricultural crops. Because of a foul-smelling fluid these spotted beetles secrete when disturbed, chickens won’t eat them, nor will other insect-eating animals. With few natural enemies, the Asian lady beetle has thrived and, in many parts of the country, become a nuisance. These bugs feed in yards and fields and are frequently found in chicken runs. Come autumn, they swarm into structures such as chicken coops to winter over.
The most reliable way to remove Asian lady beetles from a coop, shed or any structure they’ve infested is to vacuum them up. If your coop has no electricity, run an outdoor-quality extension cord and use a heavy-duty vacuum such as a Shop-Vac. Asian lady beetles typically enter structures through cracks rather than open doors. To minimize their presence in your coop, caulk all spaces between boards, and also around windows and vent openings. Plug holes with hardware mesh or cement.
Heaven knows how many times I’ve stood by my coops, imploring my birds to please eat the box-elder bugs (Boisea trivittata) that take over our terrain twice a year and swarm the sides of our barn, house and coops. These insects are not know to bite, transmit disease, or damage homes or crops. They’re simply a nuisance, especially on warm, sunny days when they cling in multitudes to exterior walls. Like the Asian Lady Beetle, the box-elder bug releases a foul-smelling fluid when disturbed, which deters chickens and other insect-eaters. Also like the ladybugs, they seek shelter as the cold months approach. Box-elder bugs often winter over in sheds and coops, but they also nestle down under litter and debris. Methods of removal and determent are the same as for the Asian Lady Beetles. If you have female box-elder trees, you might consider removing them because they are the box-elder bug’s primary source of food.
Frequently mistaken for the cockroach, the darkling beetle (family Tenebrionidae) makes itself at home in any sheltered spot with plenty of natural litter in which to burrow. It spends its day beneath the surface, emerging at night to feed on decomposing vegetation and shed animal tissue, Very hardy creatures, darkling beetles can live as long as 20 years if they inhabit a secure shelter. Unfortunately, a natural-floor chicken coop with spilled food, shed chicken feathers and skin, and soiled litter makes the ideal habitat for these insects. Eradicating them requires diligent coop management. Change your flock’s litter frequently—at least once a week—to remove the organic debris that darkling beetles eat. Clean up any food spills immediately. Remove any dense weeds around the coop and run that could give beetles shelter during the day. Avoid using the deep-litter method to heat your coop, as the decomposing matter is a siren song for darkling beetles. Also important: Avoid offering your birds live mealworms, which are the larval form of the darkling beetle. Chickens adore mealworms, but one or two missed mealworms can result in a darkling-beetle future.