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Mites And Your Reptile

Amazingly, there are over 250 species of mite which can affect reptiles.

Mites can cause lots of problems for reptiles, and can be difficult to spot as they are often small and colourless, especially in the early stages of their life cycle.

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More about mites and your reptile

Amazingly, there are over 250 species of mite which can affect reptiles. Thankfully, most of these are very rare or not found in the UK. Spider-like, and ranging in size from as small as 0.1mm, many mites are not parasitic at all and are in fact free-living – some mites in fact are really useful, working as decomposters in our environment! Parasitic mites, who live on our pets, can cause more trouble. Captivity can be a blessing or a curse for reptiles where parasites are concerned – the clean conditions, and low interaction with new environments and other reptiles, can help keep parasitic infection rate low. If captive reptiles do become infected, however, the close quarters of captivity can meant that the parasites grow rapidly in numbers and can cause serious problems. There is also a suggestion that mites in reptiles may help transmit other diseases, such as roundworms and aeromonas (a bacterial disease which causes ‘mouth rot’). Snake mites are also believed to act as a transmitter of IBD (Inclusion Body Disease), a potentially fatal illness of snakes such as pythons and boas. Knowing the signs of parasitic problems in your reptile can help you keep you spot problems early, keeping your reptile in tip-top condition.
The most common mites to be seen in our reptiles in the UK are Ophionyssus mites, or reptile mites. O. natricis (the snake mite) is very common in snakes and occasionally infests lizards, and conversely O. acertinus (the lizard mite) is common in lizards, but can occasionally infest snakes. Species with large, overlapping scales are more commonly affected, including carpet pythons and skinks. Snake and lizard mites are blood-suckers, but spend the majority of their life off the host reptile. This can make them difficult to spot, and also tough to eradicate. Unhelpfully, female lizard and snake mites do not need a male to reproduce, so a single mite can cause a large problem. Not only this, these parasites have been known to travel several metres, so may travel between enclosures in homes that have multiple reptiles.

Although the larval stages of these mites are small and pale and can be difficult to spot, adults can sometimes be seen as small black dots. These mites like to bury, so will go under scales, but they can be noticed in the softest areas, as this makes it easier for them to suck blood.

In lizards they can be seen:

  • Corners of the mouth
  • Around the nostrils
  • Around the eyes and ear holes
  • Around the vent

In snakes they can be seen:

  • The skin fold under the chin
  • Around the nostrils and eyes
  • Around the vent
  • Under the scale on the belly
  • In the heat pits along the lower jaw

In snakes they can be seen:

  • The skin fold under the chin
  • Around the nostrils and eyes
  • Around the vent
  • Under the scale on the belly
  • In the heat pits along the lower jaw

Other signs of a reptile mite infestation include:

  • Mite dust or mite poo being seen this can look like white specks, and is most easily seen floating on the water's surface after bathing your reptile.
  • Poor skin/scale health. Crusts may be seen, or evidence of bleeding.
  • Change in movement your reptile may be less active than usual, or may be over-active/agitated and moving around the enclosure rapidly, rubbing on items.
  • Anorexia and going off food is a non-specific sign but can indicate poor health in reptiles.
  • Rubbing, uncomfortable reptiles may scratch against enclosure furniture.
  • Bathing itchy reptiles may choose to sit in water for relief.
  • Changes in shedding. As skin health is affected by mites, shedding may not occur normally.

If your reptile is experiencing any of these signs then make an appointment with your local vetas soon as possible.

Although reptiles can get mites, healthy reptiles in a clean environment are not at a high risk of getting mites. Because of this, it is rare for these pets to require routine treatment against mites. However, there are some simple steps to help protect your reptile from mites:

  1. Monitoring. If you see any changes in your pet's scales or behaviour, always get them checked over by a vet who will be able to help control any mite infestation.
  2. Handling if appropriate. Regular handling will help identify any changes in your pet's skin early, which will help with effective and rapid treatment.
  3. Substrate. Get substrate from a reputable supplier as mites can be transmitted via these materials and can survive for some time off the host.
  4. Quarantine. When bringing new reptiles into your home, consider a quarantine period to make sure you are not bringing in more than you bargained for!

If you think your reptile might have a mite infection, the best thing to do is to go to your vet. They can do a full physical examination, and check your reptile over from end to end! If there is a risk your reptile may have mites, your vet will prescribe a treatment protocol suitable for your pet, which should eliminate the mites. This may include:

  • Anti-parasitic medication. This should always be used with caution in any species, as toxicity is a concern. For example, ivermectin, a common anti-parasitic, is lethal to chelonians and should never be used on turtles or tortoises.
  • Luke-warm baths if appropriate, as many mites will die if submerged, however this does not work for mites that are on the head. Reptiles should never be left unattended whilst soaking.
  • Cleaning of the environment of your reptile. Without cleaning out their area it is likely that your reptile will quickly become reinfested.
  • A discussion on how your reptile is kept, to see if there is any way to reduce the risk of future problems.

If there is any doubt about the diagnosis, your vet may recommend skin tests. These will look for the mites themselves, which are can be invisible or barely visible to the human eye.

Sadly, although mites may prefer one species over another, some will also infect humans if they are in close enough contact. Although snake mites do not generally affect people, there is one report of a human skin irritation resulting from Ophionyssus. If you think you may have been exposed to mites, and are concerned, always contact your doctor for advice.

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