What are snake mites?
Also known as reptile mites, these parasitic creatures are commonly found on snakes. They feed on snakes by puncturing through the skin. Snakes usually show symptoms of discomfort and irritation when these mites feed on them.
They can also provide a portal of entry for a range of diseases such as inclusion body disease (IBD) for which they are also a vector and Aeromonas.
In this article, we will answer the question ‘How does a snake get mites?’ If your snake ever gets infested with mites, it is important that you get rid of the mites as soon as possible. This process isn’t complicated or difficult.
What Do Mites Look Like On Snakes?
Mites are quite easy to spot as they are about a millimeter in length and dark in color. Additionally, after feeding on your snake, they become engorged with blood.
Most infested snakes start off having a mite or two, but they quickly bloom in number and soon infest the entire snake enclosure. You may see them moving around the enclosure and on the snake’s body.
Snake mites don’t necessarily live on snakes; they are on the snake to feed. As such, they are not confined to just the snake. However, when on the snake, they prefer to collect around the eyes, mouth, and jaw of the snake.
Where Do Snake Mites Come From?
Have you ever wondered how did my snake get mites? Snake mites are transferred through contact. If the pet shop from which you acquire the snake from has a mite infestation, then it is likely you snake will be infested as well.
Since the snakes and reptiles at a pet shop are handled frequently, the mites can easily be transferred from one reptile to another and from one enclosure to another.
Similarly, unsterilized enclosures attract mites, which usually come from snakes caught in the wild. For this reason, it is best to acquire captive bred snakes only, since wild snakes are commonly infested with snake mites.
Under the right conditions, an unfertilized female can still reproduce. A single female can lay thousands of eggs. Mites spread easily if not checked.
How long can snake mites live without a host?
Well, mites can live several days without hosts. In all, they can live up to 40 days. They don’t just live on the host; they also live in cracks, crevices, and other areas. This makes it important to disinfect any previously owned enclosure before transferring your snake into it.
How to Tell If Your Snake Has Mites?
There are several different types of mites that infest snakes. The most common is the snake mite (Ophionyssus natricis). This mite is dark in color and easy to spot.
If your snake has mites, it is most likely Ophionyssus natricis. Other less common mites that can infest snakes include chigger mites (larvae of the Trombiculid mite), lizard mites, hard-shelled ticks, dust mites, and bark mites.
The signs of mites are easy to notice. Apart from spotting the tiny moving mites in the enclosure and on the skin snake of the snake, you can also notice the symptoms of infestation on the snake.
Mites severely irritate snakes, so they try to rid themselves of the mites. They do this by soaking in water as often as they can. This way the water can drown the mites.
Infested snake often spend a large amount of time in their water dish. You will often find the mites floating in the water dish. After you handle your snake, some of the mites may be transferred to you and you can find them crawling on your arms. The eyes of the snake may also be swollen and the snake may refuse to eat.
If you notice any of these signs, it is time to rid the enclosure of mites.
How to Get Rid of Snake Mites? (How to Treat Snake Mites)
The two most common mite species that afflicts snakes include the Ophionyssus natricis and the Ophionyssus acertinus. You can collect a few of these mites from either the water bowl or the enclosure.
A cockroach trap can be used to trap a few of these mites. A vet can easily examine and identify the mites. This is usually necessary if you are unable to get rid of the mites yourself. However, if you wish to tackle the problem yourself, you can follow the simple steps provided.
Treat the Snake
Get a plastic container large enough to fit your snake such as a Rubbermaid container. The container should have a lid with holes so your snake can breathe.
If the lid doesn’t have holes, make a few in them. The lid is to stop your snake from climbing out. Place the snake in the container and pour lukewarm Betadine solution (10 parts water and 1 part Betadine) into the container. The water needs to have a temperature of about 80 F.
Fill the container with enough water so your snake can bathe without drowning. The water will drown the mites on the snake and the iodine will help disinfect any punctures created by the mites.
The snake should soak in the water for about 40 mins. Keep an eye on the snake during the entire soaking process so as to ensure the snake is safe.
Once you remove the snake from the water, wipe any remaining mite away with mineral oil, baby oil or olive oil. Snake mites and olive oil don’t mix as the oil suffocates them.
Check the snake thoroughly especially the belly scutes (wide scales on the belly), vent fold (the underside of the tail), chin, heat pits, and eyes. Wipe those areas with mineral oils. Ensure there are no longer any mites on the snake. Reptile Spray is one reptile mite spray that is very effective at eliminating mites. It is EPA and USDA approved.
Repeat this process every day for a week. The mites should all be gone by a week. However, if the problem persists, you need to seek help from a vet. Some symptoms include regurgitation, appetite loss, and difficulty breathing (breathing through the mouth).
Of course, while you are treating the snake, ensure you are treating the enclosure as well.
Disinfect the Enclosure
While the snake bathes, use that time to disinfect the enclosure. Normally this must be done every 3 to 6 months. However, since the enclosure is infested, you need to clean the enclosure.
Empty The Enclosure
Start by removing the water dish. There shouldn’t be food lying around the enclosure since you only feed snakes when they have to eat. If there is any food lying around, remove that.
Next, remove all items and substrate from the enclosure. Items such as hide boxes and decorations need to be disinfected as well. The substrate and other porous materials such as wood and other organic decorations need to be disposed of properly.
Also, vacuum the enclosure to remove all bits of the substrate as well as mite feces, eggs, and remaining mites.
Wipe Down The Enclosure With Bleach Solution
Clean/wipe down the enclosure with a 5% bleach solution (approximately 30 parts water and 1 part bleach). For every gallon (3.8 L) of water, add half a cup (120 ml) of bleach. Remember to wear gloves before you commence the cleaning process.
With the help of a clean cloth/rag, thoroughly clean every inch of the enclosure with the solution. This solution will kill harmful microbes the mites carry as well as drown any mites left behind.
Allow the bleach solution to sit for about 10 minutes before you thoroughly rinse the enclosure with clean potable water. After rinsing the enclosure, and wipe all remaining bleach solution with a new cloth and air dry it.
The hide boxes and rocks need to be disinfected as well. Plastic hide boxes can be disinfected the same way you disinfect the enclosure. Since rocks are porous, disinfecting them with bleach solution won’t work. Boil rocks and ceramic hides in hot water for about half an hour. This should kill any and all mites on and in them.
Kill Remaining Mites With A No Pest Strip
Use a no pest strip such as the Hot Shot No-Pest Strip. Follow the instructions that come with the strip. Keep the strip in the enclosure for about 180 minutes.
The enclosure should be totally sealed with the strip inside. A pest strip can be harmful to the snake so don’t use it while the snake is inside. It can lead to organophosphate poisoning which can kill the snake. Also, allow the vapor from the strip to properly leave the enclosure before returning the snake into it.
After disinfecting the enclosure and all the items such as water bowl, hide boxes and rocks, you can set up the enclosure as it has always been. Use a paper towel or even newspaper as a substrate for the meantime as mites can easily be spotted on the paper. When you are 100% sure there are no mites, you can switch back to your regular substrate.
While snake mites can be a nightmare, getting rid of them should not be an impossible task. Firstly, you need to identify the tiny millimeter tall critters. Secondly, you need to treat the snake and disinfect the enclosure.
And lastly, you need to be on the lookout for any return. Ensure the enclosure is always clean and hygienic so as to prevent the mites from returning. Once you have done this, you can easily rid your snake of these irritating and potentially dangerous pests.
If you have troubles getting rid of snake mites, it is important to consult a herp vet. If you have any comments to add, we are more than happy to hear them.