Dealing with Reptile Mites!
Dealing with mites in a reptile collection can be a daunting and frustrating task but dont worry we will explain that here,
So you have noticed mites in your vivarium, terrarium or reptile - first of all you need to establish what sort of mite it is. There are thousands of species of mite so its almost impossible to pinpoint the exact mite you are having a problem with but we can group them into three basic categories of mite you are likely to experience in the vivarium.
There are two types of mite that are most commonly encountered and strike fear into reptile keepers but they are not as bad as you may first think, these are mites that are harboured in substrates and food. These mites are usually dull white and about the size of a full stop such as this. You will encounter these mites if you are using a wood based or earth type substrate in a humid vivarium, they do not have to have come from any where - they just seem to appear! They appear because they have all the elements they need to survive. These are warmth, moisture, food and somewhere to live (the wood substrate). In small numbers they will not present a problem, only in large uncontrolled numbers would they pose a risk to the reptile, lizard, snake or amphibian. These mites can easily be managed by cleaning the substrate regularly (replace eco earth monthly and wash or replace bark substrates). By doing this and removing uneaten food and spot cleaning faeces on a daily basis will ensure a mite population doesnt spiral out of control. Another mite often encountered are the "grain" or "dust" mites, again these favour conditions as mentioned above and can be controlled the same, these are usually introduced when the reptile keeper attempts to store or breed livefoods at home, these mites love to feed on bran and grains etc, they are then introduced into the vivarium with the livefoods.
Thirdly you may encounter, (but less likely to do so) are the serious mites, these one can cause problems and must be treated asap - these are the snake mites, reptile mites and ticks. Again hundreds of species but all have the same thing in commmon. They live on your reptile using him as a host usually feeding on its blood!
How to identify reptile / snake mites - These mites are usually red or brown or even reddish brown! in colour, they can vary in size from a small dot to something like a very large flea, ticks are usually a bit larger. when squashed they will usually leave a red blood spot.
How do i know if my snake / lizard has mites - The first signs to look for are excessive shedding of the skin and dead mites in the water dish. Reptiles with mites will spend a lot of time laying in water to try and drown the mites as they will be itrratating them. If you suspect your lizard or snake has mites remove him from the vivarium and insect him closely, in a severe infestation you will notice mites crawling all over its body and even over your hands. In less severe infestations and in most snake mite situations you will notice mites underneath the scales, let your snake slither through your hands when he bends the under side of his scales will be visible - dont be suprised if you see mites hiding underneath the scales which then dissapear again completely from view underneath the scale. These scales will look slightly more raised than the others.
How do i treat reptile mites - You need to attack them fast and hard, you cant do half measures. First of all remove the reptile and any tank mates from the vivarium (if one reptile is affected you must assume all reptiles in that vivarium are also infected), dispose of all substrate, if you can dispose of all wooden furniture such as branches then do so but if they were expensive or unique you will need to wash and scrub them then soak them in hot water. All water and food dishes must be removed, scrubbed and soaked in hot water. When soaking items of vivarium furniture ensure they are fully submerged or else the mite will just climb up to the dry part to live on for another day!. Ok so thats the furniture taken care of now you need to tackle the vivarium, if the vivarium has any unsealed joints then extra care must be taken as there will be mites hiding in the cracks. once the vivarium is empty give it a thorough washing out with hot soapy water. If you can remove it from the house and give it a thorough spraying with an insecticide.
To treat the reptile for mites you will need to give it a spray with a mite killer, there are two types of mite spray available ones with an active ingredient and ones without, the ones without contain naturally occuring substances and work by irritating or suffocating the mites, ones with active ingredients contain chemicals that will kill the mites. In our experience Beaphar insect spray is the most effective and after treating snakes with mites with this product the first treatment was extremely effective and only required secondary treatments in heavily infested wild caught animals and in mild cases as a "belts and braces" precaution. Always follow instructions on mite sprays carefully as some reptiles may be unable to be treated.
When treating a reptile for mites we always wear gloves, spray the product onto the reptile and work it into the reptiles skin to try and get it under all of the scales, pay attention to ears and nostrils as this is where mites like to hide - but always check the instructions first before applying any spray.