You found small bugs on your reptile.. Are these Reptile Mites? Now what..
Consider The Following:
- What is a reptile mite?
- What are the different kinds of reptile mites?
- What is the reptile mite life cycle?
- How to kill reptile mites?
- How to prevent reptile mites?
What is a reptile mite?
Reptile mites are tick-like bugs that pray on the blood of your pet reptile. This can cause your reptile to become dull, lethargic, dehydrated, and can even cause sickness. These mites can be tricky to eradicate. However, with a good mite killing routine and proper reptile husbandry this problem can be easy to remove. Always do research about your animal and potential parasites because some reptiles do not get the same kind of mites.
What are the different kinds of reptile mites?
Snakes are usually subject to be the pray of Ophionyssus natricis. These are the most common we hear about in the reptile community. They can be found on pythons, boas, colubrids, and even some lizards like blue tongue skinks. These mites like to get in between the scales of your reptile. Another common reptile mite that mainly prays on lizards is Hirstiella trombidiifromis. These mites damage lizards skin by making it appear discolored, swollen and/or irritated, and can also cause serious bacterial infections. Tortoises, some turtles, and other reptiles that are kept outside can get common ticks which can be removed by hand.
The following two types of mites are not as common. Chigger or grain mites mainly suck blood as larva. Wood mites, on the other hand are not harmful. They can be found when buying cypress or other wood beddings. Killing either of these two would still be important for proper husbandry and hygiene.
What is the reptile mite life cycle?
Reptile mites do not live long. However, the amount they reproduce and how often can be alarming. They have 5 stages: Egg, Larve, Protonymph, Deuteronymph, and Adult. Reptile mites usually take no more than 5 days to come out of their eggs. They are only in the larva stage for 1-2 days and do not feed at this time. Protonymph stage is when they start smelling the reptiles and begin feeding which can last up to two weeks. When they are ready, they go into the Deuteronymph stage for roughly a day. They then become adults and continue to feed and start mating. Adult mites can live from 10 to 40 days and can produce roughly 90 eggs each in their life time. They love to breed in between the scales of you reptile and the bedding in its enclosure so once they situate themselves they can easily become an infestation.
How to kill reptile mites?
Though reptile mites can be tricky, always remember that they are manageable and you can eradicate them. Since we understand the reptile mite life cycle we can prepare a plan to remove them. Make sure you have the following: access to water, animal safe dish soap, paper towels, a separate bin and enclosure, gloves, mask, water dish/food bowl (if necessary), permethrin spray (e.g. Provent-A-Mite or similar product), and an animal safe mite killer (e.g. Repti-spray, Frontline, Nix, etc..). Also, if you have other reptiles, you may want to consider quarantining the reptile(s) that have mites and/or around where you found mites.
You're going to want to soak your reptile in a bin with holes and some lukewarm water, enough to cover the majority of it's body, but not to where the animal is forced to swim/float and cannot safely lift its head. Do this for about 30 minutes to allow your reptile to hydrate before the preventative treatment as it can dehydrate your reptile. While you're waiting, this is a good time to set up a temporary enclosure. I recommend paper towel as bedding for the mean time. Once this enclosure is set up you may use the permethrin spray inside (1-2 sprays or as recommended on the can). The permethrin spray will potentially kill any mites on your reptile that do not die during the preventative treatment. Doing the spray this early in the process will allow any harmful moisture and fumes from the spray to disappear before putting your reptile in the enclosure. Please note, you should wear a mask when spraying to avoid breathing in the spray.
Next add 1-2 drops of dish soap and move around the water to create some bubbles. Allow your animal to sit in the soapy water for about an hour. The soap is used so that way it can force water in between the scales of your reptile, therefore pulling out as many potential mites as possible and drowning them. After this, you may carefully dry off your reptile with some paper towels and put on gloves. The step that follows requires specific attention! Spray about two pumps of the mite killer of your choosing on your gloves. Most people use Repti-Spray, we use Frontline here for incoming reptiles, some people even dilute Nix with some water. With the product on your gloves, carefully rub it on your reptile avoiding eyes, pits, and inside the mouth. This should kill any potential remaining mites.
Place your reptile in the temporary enclosure once you have completed the preventative treatment. DO NOT add water for 24-48 hours as the chemicals you have used can enter the water and kill your reptile if they drink it. 24 hours for animals that look dehydrated and skinny, 48 hours for healthy looking animals. I would avoid offering food until after water is offered. If you found mites during this process, use the permethrin spray every 1-2 weeks for about a month (always remove water/food dishes for at least 24-48 hours when using this spray), and if you still see mites by the end of the 4th week repeat this whole process and do not put the reptile near your existing collection.
How to prevent reptile mites?
Unfortunately, reptile mites like similar environments that we keep our reptiles in. Therefore, the only thing you can do is have proper reptile husbandry and monitor your animals. Look out for signs like your animal constantly soaking, dull coloration, lack of activity and eating, and of course look for small tick-like bugs. Be careful as some reptiles may not do well with mite treatment. (See our How to Quarantine Your Reptile blog). E.g. some lizards may do better on a diluted povidone iodine treament than others.