Snake mite - how to treat them effectively.
Updated: Aug 8, 2021
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Snake mites are ectoparasites that feed on blood. In a previous blog we investigated the life cycle and living conditions of the snake mite, Ophionyssus natricis. While there are many types of mites that feed on reptiles, Ophyionyssus natricis is by far the most common. There are more than one way to get mites and if it is picked up straight away, it is not a sign of poor husbandry. A mite infestation, across multiple enclosures can be a sign of poor husbandry.
Why isn't snake mite a problem in the wild like it is in captive snakes?
The mite affecting snakes and (less commonly lizards) is known as Snake mite, Ophionyssus natricis. Snake mites are parasites, feeding off the blood from reptiles. They thrive in the same conditions in which many of our captive snakes do, are extremely small and can hide in miniscule crevices; therefore making them difficult to eradicate. With most species of mite dwelling on the skin surface, heavy infestations are seldom found in wild reptile specimens due to ecdysis (skin shedding) providing sporadic removal of the mite population on an individual (Davies, 2008) and the exposure to predators of mites such as ants.
Wild Carpet python, Morelia spilota
Why do I have mites?
There could be several reasons you now have mite in your collection. Did you handle a snake in a pet shop or at a mates place? Did a mate visit that has mites and handle your animals? Have you been side-tracked and the cleaning of cages got the better of you? Was your new acquisition wild caught? If left to their own devices and no treatment is offered they can quickly spread from one cage to a whole collection. Ophionyssus natricis are strongly attracted to the smell of reptiles and have been known to travel several metres, to find a host. This is one way they are able to spread so quickly. Even if you do not see mites in surrounding enclosures, treat them as if they were infected with mite.
What are the signs of mites?
Animal(s) soaking in water bowls continuously, even if it isn't hot. This is generally a sign of infestation, not a couple of mites. Soaking may kill the adults, but usually the eggs survive. It gives the snake short term relief and is a natural way of a snake coping with mites.
A change in temperament is often present in a snake with mites. Mites often make a snake lethargic. Mites need a blood meal to survive, they get in under the scales and suck the blood from their host. This can weaken the snake. As well as being lethargic, irritation is another obvious temperament change. Your snake will not be used to the feeling of the mites lodging themselves under the scales and feeding. Your snake will be uncomfortable with this feeling and want them gone. The irritation will disperse when the mites have been irradiated.
You may see black specks floating in the water bowl. These are mites that have drowned while the snake was soaking in the water bowl.
Tiny dark objects moving around the cage. Mites don't just stay on the snake. They will move off the snake to lay their eggs around the enclosure, utilising the dark places in corners and joins. This is why it is imperative to treat both animal and enclosure to eradicate them.
Tiny dark objects on the snake. You will see these mainly around the eyes, around the nostrils, in the labial pits, in the skin folds beneath the lower jaw, around the vent, under the scale on the belly, in the heat pits along the jaw (pythons) around the ears (lizards). It is usually the engorged female that the naked eye is able to see.