If there is one aspect of keeping pets that could possibly drive a person insane
it is the battle between humans and the parasites that our pets may carry. Every
year people spend millions of dollars to get rid of worms, fleas, ticks, and an assortment
of other creepy crawly creatures that can injure or kill our animals if not dealt
with. In the reptile world, these creatures are mites and ticks. While ticks are
fairly easy to deal with (just pick them off, disinfect the wound, and kill the tick),
mites are amongst the most annoying creatures on the planet.
Very similar to bird mites, reptile mites strike fear in the heart of any knowledgeable
herper. These suggestions come from personal experience and advice from other collectors
and breeders. Hopefully this will prepare you for your inevitable battle with the
Mites come in a couple of different forms. The regular reptile mite is either black
or dark red-black, and are about the size of a pinhead or smaller. During my recent
infestation, these mites did NOT appear to attack my iguanas, chameleons, tortoises
or lacertas. They did affect everything else from small garter snakes to large pythons,
and skinks of 2 different types. The other type of mite is the orange "chigger" mite,
and is usually associated with iguanas. These mites are even smaller than the black
mites, though do not appear to affect as many types of animals.. Iguanas, in particular,
are subject to these orange mites, though I have also seen them on green snakes and
The NEW way, which will save you time and probably, in the long run, money!:
Go to http://www.pro-products.com and order enough Provent-a-mite to do your collection.
One can can do roughly 15 cages. You'll want to keep enough on hand to use it monthly
to prevent future outbreaks. I rarely make name-brand product recommendations, but
this is an exception. I can't say enough good things about this product. There are
other products on the market, but I have heard varying success with those.
The OLD way, or for those who are sensitive to permethrins:
Treating your animal for these pests can be extremely exhausting, depending on the
number of animals in question. For one or two animals, you can expect to spend at
least 1 hour for 5 days to rid your animals and their cages of these monsters, though
less time is possible. Treatment itself is very similar to treatment for fleas on
dogs or cats (similar in that both the animal and habitat must be treated to end
the life cycle of the mites.) The animal must be quarantined in a mite-free area
and soaked in luke-warm water. Mites drown quickly, and will easily rinse off, though
those under the scales may hang on. I recommend adding Betadine to help cleanse the
bite wounds and start healing. Be sure your animal has had a chance to drink as much
as it wants prior to adding the Betadine. The depth of the water should cover the
back of the animal, but still allow it to breathe. Be very careful with small snakes,
as they tire easily and may drown. Do NOT add soap, lice shampoo, or any other insecticide
to the water: I killed one snake doing this and brain damaged 2 others, despite the
label leading me to think it was safe. Note: none of the commerical preparations
for mites appears to be everything it claims. Most don't work at all, and those that
can work are risky. The only one of these that I have had ANY success with was ZooMed's
Mite-Off, though the cause of mite death could have been attributed to simply drowning
in the fluid. Another good, all-natural way of "drowning" the mites is to rub a small
amount of mineral oil or olive oil on your animal; in lizards, be sure to get a drop
or two in the ear canals. Be careful not to cover the nostrils, though, as this can
also "drown" your reptile!
While your animal is soaking in an escape-proof cage, you must disinfect the cage
and furniture in it. Any wood furniture can be baked at 200 degrees(F) for 2 hours.
This is not hot enough to catch fire, but is hot enough to kill the mites and eggs.
Cages themselves should be washed out, outdoors when possible. A spray with lice
shampoo or other insecticide can be applied, as long as it is rinsed COMPLETELY and
thoroughly before using it again to diffuse any leftover fumes. Wooden cages should
be allowed to completely dry before re-using. Other cage furnishing can be hand-washed
in hot, soapy water with bleach added. A run through a dishwasher is also acceptable.
Another way of killing mites in cages is to take "No Pest" strips or strong flea
collars and put them in the cage. Seal the cage shut with plastic wrap, or place
the whole cage in a large plastic garbage bag. Leave it sealed for 2-3 days. (Make
sure you have an alternate home for your reptile while this is happening. NEVER put
your animal in the cage with the strip, as the chemicals will kill or cause brain
For the next several days, keep your animal housed on paper towels or blank newspaper.
This will allow you to easily see any new mites that appear. Check your animal each
day for new mites, but be aware that newly hatched mites will be much smaller than
the adults. Check under the throat areas, and lift up scales where possible to check
underneath. Eye sockets are a favorite hiding place for mites, and are often undetected
there. If you find any new mites, even one, repeat the entire process. It is a good
idea to have your animal in a separate, smaller cage during this process, if possible.
This will leave your regular cage clean and ready for your de-mited animal upon final
determination of being miteless.
A last step in your process should be to disinfect the area surrounding the cage.
Mites can travel up to 15 feet per day, and can easily have climbed off your animal
and into your hardwood floors or carpets. A commercial flea-shampoo for carpets is
recommended. Do this every 3 days until you have determined that no more mites exist
on your animal. This way you make sure that any mites living on your floors, drapes,
etc. will be killed before they can get back to your animal.
Mites are a hassle to every herp owner, anywhere in the world. If left untreated
they will ultimately kill your animal, and make it miserable in the meantime. Treatment,
however, is a long and difficult process, and is no fun. With some precautions, though,
mite outbreaks can be contained, and can be kept from infecting your other reptiles.
Don't worry about them bothering you or your other pets, though, as they are host-specific,
and will only attack reptiles. For more information, please call or email me, and
I'll be glad to help you.