Live adult female ASM

Contrary to popular belief, air sac mites do not always or necessarily cause a "clicking" sound most books and breeders claim. Sometimes they make no sound at all, and sometimes they make other less savory sounds that can indicate ASM. Unfortunately, these same sounds can be a sign of other issues as well, so diagnosis is imperative.

Case in Point

A friend had been distressed by a rough, raspy sort of sound coming from her birds. There was no heavy breathing, only the sound of those raspy calls whenever the birds tried to sing or call to one another and no other sign of illness. No fluffing, no sleeping during the day. Whatever the disease, it traveled quickly to several others. It was not detected in them due to the size of the aviary and other sounds therein. Some of the birds died.

 Because the birds had been treated regularly (preventive maintenance) with an Ivermectin solution, it was initially thought it was NOT air sac mites and was instead some other devastating disease that caused mucous in the airway, effectively suffocating the birds. Some were treated with Scatt and Ronex (antiprotozoal) in an effort to rule out both mites and Trichomonas (which can cause mucous if not caught early). Some of the birds responded immediately, but to which med was unknown at the time.

Next concern:

If the mites are still alive in a long-dead bird, can they still be transmitted through the air - or carried on clothing - if a necropsy is performed?

Again, answering my own questions -

The mites are small. While some describe them as looking like grains of black pepper, even as adults they are actually so small they can barely be seen without magnification. When I perform a necropsy, I wet a cotton swab and pick them up from the trachea. They look like nothing more than dust or even a feather fragment. They are often so tiny they could easily be missed.

If they are still alive, they COULD conceivably get onto your clothing and move from your necropsy area to other areas. But because they would be coming from a wet medium, I do not believe they can be carried through the air during necropsy. Don’t sneeze, that’s all I ask. And they certainly don’t move fast enough to go far when taken from a 4 day dead bird. Yep, they still move, but slowly. Very, very slowly. It is therefore my humble opinion that there is no danger of them moving from dead bird to live bird - as long as your necropsy area isn't in the actual aviary.

If "gravid" females are found, can their young survive or spread even after the death of the bird?

It is certainly possible that if an infested bird is not found in the aviary immediately after death, the mites could leave the bird in search of a live blood meal. Whether the young can survive outside the bird or spread after the death of the bird is unknown. But nymphs and males don’t feed, so while ANY mites are bad, young aren’t much of a threat until they reach adulthood – and outside the bird, that isn’t going to happen. It’s the adult females that must be stopped.

I have to assume that live mites in a dead bird have fed right up to the point of coagulation. Once the blood has coagulated, I can't imagine they'd find it very appetizing. But that doesn't mean they can't or won't feed on coagulated blood in the bird. The live young within a female will feed off of her until there is nothing left, but can they leave her and spread? I do not know. In all honesty, it's not something I care to test. I'm not going to sacrifice birds to find out!

Therefore, it remains imperative that you watch your birds daily and check their cages. If there is only one bird suffering from the mites and it dies but isn’t found immediately, you could be facing other affected birds.

Lastly, how can we determine if a bird carries the dormant mites? And can the mites be destroyed while dormant through medication?

These are all questions I'd like to answer at some point. I have my theories, but I have never had air sac mites in my own birds (knock on wood), so it may be an answer I never find unless through other breeders' birds. The best I can do for now is to figure out a way to test for dormant mites and hope and pray my birds stay mite free! I’m working on it and I WILL figure it out!

Several studies have confirmed that the mites in “nymph” stage remain in the posterior air sacs until the bird’s immune system is compromised and therefore can no longer fight off an infection.

It now seems obvious that every Gouldian we keep could potentially be harboring dormant mites.  Because there is no way to determine if they carry them, the only way to prevent infestations is to breed only strong birds and use REGULAR PROACTIVE PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE in the form of scheduled mite treatment.

She was panicked and worried she’d lose more birds, so I had her ship me off a bird for necropsy. When I opened the bird, I was shocked at what I found - ASM, but in a stage far beyond what I had ever seen before. You see, I'd only ever seen them the "nymph" stage because they have always been caught early in aviaries I monitor. Only ingested mites had been viewed here (in droppings) of birds from other aviaries. The mites in this bird were at the full adult stage, and females were "gravid" - in other words, full of young which were fully visible through the body of the mite.

After my initial shock and hysteria (I don't DO bugs!), a closer inspection under the scope was, in fact, quite awesome. At only 100x magnification, each adult mite took up the entire viewing area of my slide. They were relatively consistent in size according to stage, adult females full of eggs/young, and are UGLY! But friend, I just went “into the zone”. Now that I had a bug in my control, I wanted to know what made it tick. My great dislike of bugs was put aside while I started contemplating the ramifications of this find.

The thing that not only concerned me, but indeed scared me, was the fact that while the bird had been dead and kept mostly cool for nearly 4 days (refrigerated before mailing and after receipt when not working on her), the mites were still alive and moving on my slide. My illogical brain was freaking out because…BUGS, while my logical brain said this finding in some respects gave credence to the idea that not only are the mites highly contagious, but that they can live without a blood meal for far longer than suspected. AND that a thorough cleaning of the bird room or aviary is PARAMOUNT to stop further contamination and/or infection. That means every branch, leaf, perch, cup, nest box & drinker. The birds that dropped were in different flights, but near enough the mites could travel with relative ease. While not very fast, that means these mites WILL move along perches and plants to get to their next blood meal once their host dies. Scary prospect if you find yourself with an active infection on your hands.

My concerns are these:

If the birds had been treated with Ivermectin as a preventive for much of their adult lives, does this mean these particular mites are immune to its effects? If not, why are they still alive after treatment and in a 4 day deceased bird?

Answers & Theories or better yet, "Answering my own questions"

The mites only feed during specific portions of their cycle – and only the females feed. In order to feed, they must move to vascular areas of the body. Those areas include the air sacs, trachea, esophagus, lungs and thoracic body cavity. But from my findings, it’s obvious they can move freely through the entire body if they need to. Upon necropsy of several birds, adult mites were found in the abdominal cavity as well. Nymphs were found in ALL air sacs from head to toe.

ASM are opportunistic. They typically affect immune suppressed and weak birds such as sick birds or mutations, though they will attack ANY immune suppressed bird once down. The young remain dormant in the posterior air sacs and only come out once the bird has weakened for some reason. How the mites know the bird is compromised remains a mystery.



Consistent Treatment

Because Ivermectin only remains in the bird’s system for 24 hours after treatment, the mites must feed within that 24 hour period in order to be killed. If they come out in between treatments, the bird will be further compromised and unless immediate action is taken, may die

Which once again brings us back around to why I Scatt every 21 days come hell or high water. Scatt is Moxidectin. It stays in the bird’s system for 21 days – not just 24 hours like Ivermectin. When used consistently, it is feasible to kill every single mite and nymph and never see an infestation even if the bird becomes compromised. Of course this is just a theory, but considering that I have never once had ASM in my own aviary even after accepting birds from aviaries known to have ASM into my breeding program, I have to assume my theory is correct.

Nymph (lower left). Adult male ASM (upper right).

There’s not a whole lot of research regarding Air Sac Mites (ASM) in finches. I’ve been doing my own research for many years now and have come to the conclusion that the only prevention is CONSISTENT preventive maintenance. In order to prevent the devastation of an Air Sac Mite (ASM) infestation, a treatment schedule including BOTH Scatt (Moxidectin) and Ivermectin should be used on a regular basis – especially prior to stressful times like breeding and the molt.