The Incorrigible Snake Mite – January 2014

By Nicole Smith

What is a mite?

(Ophionyssus natricis) or “the snake mite” , are tiny arthropods that feed primarily  on the blood of living snakes but can also feed on certain lizard species as well. There are over 250 different species of mites that have been reported in reptiles, the most common being Ophionyssus natricis (karingavet.com.au).  The life cycle of the snake mite consists of five stages, egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, and adult. The complete lifecycle can be achieved in 13 to 19 days at temperatures between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. A female mite can lay a couple dozen eggs at a time and lay up to 60 to 80 eggs during their lifespan. Eggs can hatch in one day in ideal conditions, once reaching adulthood they can live up to 40 days regardless of if they feed or not!

Where do they come from?

A female mite will travel far to look for the perfect place to lay her eggs. At a temperature of around 86 degrees Fahrenheit, a female mite can travel at speeds of up to eight to eleven inches per minute or fifty five feet per hour! Mites can be transferred on cage equipment, furnishings, and clothes, so taking the right precautions, like using Provent a Mite on new cage furnishings, helps if you don’t want to deal with these pesky little parasites. The severity of an infestation is very dependent on the environment in which your animal lives in.

The small black specks are snake mites – they can be very small! 

Snake mites thrive in high temperatures and humidity, making them awfully hard to get rid of without harming your reptile, as high temperatures and humidity are often what our pets need to thrive as well. Snake mites can drown easily in water but they will still flourish in tropical environments over any other. Reptile species like Green Tree Pythons and other tropical species are perfect contenders for an infestation, although any species of snake is susceptible. Snake mites prefer dark areas over bright ones and over-lapping scales like most boas and pythons have so they can easily hold on between the pieces of skin. 

How can you tell when your reptile has mites and how do you get rid of them?

Signs that your reptile may have mites would include things such as refusing to eat, depression, excessive soaking in their water bowls, or dull looking, raised scales. Mites are also visible and will look like little black moving pieces of pepper or poppy seeds as adults. Depending on your pet, there are numerous methods to use to rid them of mites. The size and health of the animal are both important to take into consideration when deciding on which method is right for you.

You can see mites in the chin scales of this ball python.

The most effective treatment for animals of an appropriate size, is using Reptile Relief by Natural Chemistry (to treat the animal), in combination with Provent A Mite (to treat the enclosure).  Start by placing your animal in a secure plastic container (with airholes of course). Lightly spray the animal from head to tail, covering the entire body in a small amount of the mite treatment. Allow your reptile to sit for 15-20 minutes while the mites die off (for smaller animals, spraying a q-tip with Reptile Relief, wiping the animal down, then rinsing off with lukewarm water will help get rid of the mites).

After the allotted time, soak your animal in clean water (just enough to go halfway up your pets’ sides – you don’t want them to drown on accident!)  for another 15-20 minutes. The soaking process will help prevent any dehydrating since the Reptile Relief works by drying out the mites to kill them off. Next you will need to treat the enclosure by completely replacing all substrate and soaking all cage décor in a 10% bleach and water solution. Make sure all décor is completely submerged as the mites can climb out of the container to avoid drowning.

A few snake mites can be seen around the eyes of this ball python.

Next, move the enclosure into an open area (usually outside is best), and clean the enclosure with an animal safe cleanser such as Healthy Habitat by Natural Chemistry, covering every inch of the cage from top to bottom. Then, you can replace the substrate (or use newspaper or paper towels if the infestation is really bad) and all cage decor EXCEPT for the water dish. Spray the entire contents of the cage with Provent A Mite at a rate of about one second per square foot. Cover up the cage so that the fog sinks into the substrate for about 10 to 15 minutes, which will kill any live mites remaining in the enclosure, and allow the Provent A Mite to soak into the cage, killing any more mites that hatch out. Allow the enclosure to air out for about 20 minutes before adding the animal and water dish. Make sure to check that the cage is fully aired out and no longer smells of Provent A Mite before adding the water bowl and animal back to the cage – putting your snake in too soon can poison your snake! The entire process should take a little over an hour and can save your animal from health issues. Re-treating your animal should be done once a week for at least 2 to 3 weeks to ensure that any mites hatching from eggs are killed off, preventing re-infestation.  To prevent future outbreaks, treating the substrate every time you replace can help ensure you never have an infestation again!

References:

http://www.karingalvet.com.au/Pet-Care/Reptiles-and-Amphibians/Reptile-Mites.asp

http://vpi.com/publications/the_life_history_of_snake_mites

http://lllreptile.com/info/library/care-and-husbandry-articles/-/dealing-with-snake-mites/

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