Mite infestations cannot only be a discomfort to your reptile, but it can also be a source of serious disease. Over 250 species of mites have been identified on reptiles but the snake mite, Ophinonssus natricis, is the most common. This mite is often found on snakes of any species and occasionally on lizards.
The adult mite can be seen with the naked eye as a very small black dot moving on the skin of the snake. Although they can be located anywhere, mites are most commonly seen around the crease where the eye speculum meets the scales, in the gular fold under the jaw and around the cloaca.
Snake mites cause discomfort from their feeding on the blood of the snake. They can transmit bacteria (such as aeromonas hydrophillia) and blood parasites to the snake. They have been implicated as a source of transmission for the boa encephalitis virus.
Mite infestations are generally an indication of poor husbandry practices. Mites can be extricated with the judicious use of insecticides, good sanitation and attention to quarantine practices.
Mite Life Cycle
A female mite lays up to 90 eggs in the environment. The eggs hatch in as little as 30 hours, depending on the environmental conditions. A blood meal is required for the mite to gain energy for a molt to each sequential life stage. The larva molts into a protonymph, the protonymph becomes the duetonymph and the duetonymph molts into the adult. Under warm conditions with moderate humidity, the lifecycle can be completed in 13 days. Mites can survive over a month off the host waiting for another blood meal.
Mites can generally be identified with the unaided eye. If mites cannot be found with the unaided eye, your veterinarian can use a magnifying glass or low powered microscope to visualize the mite. You can also run a damped gauze sponge down the skin of the snake and examined it under a low power microscope.
Consult a parasitology book to identify the mite to the species level. Ophionyssus adults have four pairs of legs, and short body hairs. A number of different species of mites have been identified on reptiles but they all are treated similarly.
Snake mite infestations have been known to cause hypersensitivity reactions in some lizard species. These reactions appear as red, inflamed or necrotic areas distal to the mite bite. On histological examination, a vasculitis occasionally with thrombosis of the vessels is noted.
A number of insecticides are effective in killing adult mites. Few, if any, are effective in killing the mite eggs, so multiple treatments are needed to kill mites as they hatch from the eggs. The timing of the treatments is important to make sure that the nymphs are killed before they become adults and lay eggs.
Some flea sprays and powders are effective in killing adult mites. Products designed for controlling human head lice have also been effective in killing mites. As the mites (like fleas) spend most of their time off the snake, treatment of the environment is critical to kill adult mites and larvae as they hatch from the eggs.
Organophosphate insecticides must be used cautiously as toxicities may occur. Signs of toxicosis include loss of muscle tone, ataxia, loss of righting reflex, hypersalivation or paralysis.
Never use Ivermectin in turtles as a toxic reaction may occur.
Discard any contaminated cage furniture (branches, plants, substrates, decorations) that have been in a cage that has been diagnosed with mites. Carefully use very hot water to clean all non porous surfaces of the cage and kill any remaining mite eggs. Allow the cage to dry completely before replacing the pet in the cage.
Some of the older insecticides have toxic odors and must be used with adequate ventilation. Some veterinarians may prescribe a separate insecticide to use to kill mites in the cage. Follow the directions carefully to avoid having the product come in contact with your pet.
Administer all medication according to your veterinarian's instructions, and observe your pet's general activity level and interest. If these worsen, contact your veterinarian. Schedule regular veterinary visits to monitor the condition.
Closely examine all new purchases prior to bringing the animal into a home with other reptiles. Use a magnifying lens if necessary. If the previous owner of the reptile has a history of having animals infested with mites, it may be wise to have your veterinarian treat your new pet prophylactically prior to bringing it into your household.
Whenever possible, all new pet reptiles should be quarantined for 90 days prior to exposing current pets to the new animals. Examine the animals closely several times during the quarantine period to make sure that they are not infested with mites.
Have your pet reptile examined on a regular basis by your veterinarian to make sure that it does not have mites.