Snake mites (Ophionyssus natricis) are tiny arthropods that feed on the blood of snakes. These ectoparasites multiply quickly. An examination will reveal small colored dots moving about on your snake’s nostrils, around the eyes (labial pits), and neck (gular fold). Also, snakes infected with mites will bathe more frequently than average in an attempt to drown the mites.
Snakes transfer mites by coming into contact with other snakes. For example, by putting infected wild-caught snakes with healthy captive snakes. Also, handling multiple snakes or putting other pet snakes into an unsterilized enclosure can quickly spread snake mites.
Fortunately, there are ways to remove snake mites safely. You can use this link to buy Provent-a-Mite on Amazon. This is the only EPA and USDA-approved product that poses no harm to your pet snake(s). Don’t use untested treatments as they can cause damage to your snake’s health.
What Are Snake Mites?
Snake mites are tiny parasites that are about 1 mm, or 1/32 of an inch long. Despite their small size, they’re relatively easy to see because they become a little bigger after they’ve fed.
They infest both your snake and its environment. A mite doesn’t just live on your snake. They feed before finding a corner, crack, or crevice to lay eggs.
Eggs only take between 1 and 4 days to hatch, which means that mites can reproduce very quickly. They also don’t need to mate to lay eggs.
Their life cycle is between 2 and 3 weeks. But, according to the Semantic Scholar, this entire process can be completed in just 7 – 16 days at room temperature. There are two kinds of mite that can affect snakes. These are:
- Ophionyssus natricis: the common snake mite
- Ophionyssus acertinus: this is a general reptile mite but can affect snakes, although this is uncommon
What Do Snake Mites Feed On?
Snake mites feed on snake blood. Mites are a kind of parasite (an ectoparasite), which means a parasite that lives outside of their host’s body.
This is opposed to other parasites, like tapeworms, which live inside the host. These are called endoparasites.
Can Mites Kill My Snake?
A few mites aren’t initially a problem, but they multiply fast. However, a group of a thousand mites requires a thousand times more blood.
Your snake’s blood is a finite resource, and if enough mites are feeding on it, then this can cause anemia. Mites can be an indirect killer.
Not only that, but mites cause irritation, inflammation, and stress. Inflammation is a sign of infection, which can be deadly. Stress is another killer, again, indirectly causing early mortality in snakes.
How Long Can Snake Mites Live?
Snake mites have a life cycle of between 2 and 3 weeks. This means that they turn from a freshly-laid egg into a fully-grown snake mite in that timeframe, but they can live for longer.
In total, snake mites will live for up to 40 days, the first two or three days of which are spent as an egg.
How Did My Snake Get Mites?
Depending on your snake’s enclosure and the way that you rear them, you should be able to determine the origins of snake mites.
1) From the Pet Store
In pet stores, you commonly see snakes housed together. You also see employees regularly handling snakes without washing their hands.
Once a small infestation of mites has established itself, it can quickly spread. Then, once they’re there, they can be very hard to remove.
2) Snakes Sharing an Enclosure
If you keep more than one snake in an enclosure, this facilitates the spread of mites. When one snake catches mites, the other(s) will get them too.
Mites don’t just live on the snake, but in their environment. They, therefore, quickly spread from one snake to another.
Imagine that you have a large tank with five snakes. You then buy another snake from a breeder, but unbeknownst to you, the snake has mites. It will only be a matter of days before the rest of the snakes have mites.
3) Infested Preowned Enclosures
If you get a second-hand enclosure, there’s a chance that it could be infested. Mites live in cracks and crevices and are difficult to remove.
So, if you buy a pre-used enclosure, there’s every chance that it could have had mites and their eggs in it.
Only purchase brand new enclosures. If you must purchase a second-hand tank, clean it thoroughly with anti-mite spray before use.
Alternatively, make sure that you get an enclosure that doesn’t have corners. Take glass enclosures, for example. These are rectangular/square with clearly defined cracks and corners for mites to hide in. Smooth plastic enclosures are better, at least with respect to preventing mite infestations.
4) Direct Contact with Other Snakes
If your snake comes into contact with another snake, this can pass on mites. Let’s say that you have a snake that doesn’t live with other snakes in its enclosure. If you put them in a female’s enclosure so that the two snakes can mate, this could cause an infestation.
This is more likely if the female snake isn’t yours, for example, and you don’t know how well the other owner takes care of his snake. This could also occur if you’re handling two of your pets at the same time.
If you’re planning on having your snake mate with another snake, make sure they’re healthy. This includes checking for mites.
5) Infested Wild-Caught Snakes
Wild-caught snakes are almost always infested with mites. They catch mites from other snakes during mating, fighting, or their natural environment.
If you’re getting a snake as a pet, pick one that was bred in captivity. Don’t assume that just because you’re buying from a breeder that your snake wasn’t wild. The rarer the species, the more likely that it was wild-caught.
So, for example, almost 100% of ball pythons or corn snakes are captive bred. Until recently, though, the only reticulated pythons you could buy were directly imported from southeast Asia. Today, more are captive bred.
6) Contact with You
Your snake can catch mites from contact with you. Snake mites don’t live on humans, but you can transfer them in your clothes or on your skin.
If you’re not careful, after you hold an infested snake, you can then pass on those mites to another snake by handling them.
When you hold a snake, sterilize your hands straight after. This isn’t just important because of mites, but because of infections as well. Snakes carry salmonella on their skin, which can cause diarrhea, fever, and cramps.
How to Tell If Your Snake Has Mites
Snake mites look like small dots. In large infestations, you can easily see them moving about on your snake.
What Color are Snake Mites?
The color of a snake mite depends on whether it has fed or not.
Unfed snake mites are a yellow-brown color. Once they feed, they turn a dark red or even black color. They also become engorged with blood.
What Is Acariasis?
Acariasis is a commonly used medical term that refers to infection with mites. However, it is also a specific form of a rash that’s caused by mites.
The term refers to a rash, like hives, that appears around a mite’s bite mark. Since snakes have scales over their skin, this rash isn’t possible to see.
What is Dysecdysis?
Dysecdysis refers to abnormal shedding or a retained shed. Dysecdysis occurs in serious mite infestations and often co-occurs with other signs of poor husbandry.
Imagine that your snake sheds every 2-3 months. If it has dysecdysis, it will still shed regularly, but the dried and shed skin will remain stuck. It will have patches of unshed skin, surrounded by regular scales.
The problem with retained shed is that it can cut off their blood flow. If their tail tip is retained, the tissue in their tail tip will die and drop off.
This can cause necrosis, where more tissue dies. Eventually, your snake will die. Retained eye caps can cause your snake to become blind.
Signs of Snake Mite Infestation
Snakes will know if they have a mite infestation. If you take a look at their behavior, you’ll be able to spot if they’re infested from that alone. Here are the signs that your snake is infested:
- Your snake is bathing all the time. If your snake stays underwater, it can hold their breath for minutes at a time. Snake mites can’t, though. So this is how your snake controls the number of mites.
- Tiny dots in the water bowl. After your snake bathes, take a look in its bowl. If you see tiny dots, either moving or still, these are mites.
- Lethargy. This means that your snake is far less active than usual, sitting still and not appearing curious.
- Not eating as much. When you try to feed your snake, it won’t strike at its food. It’ll be disinterested and will eat more occasionally.
- Favored locations for mites. Examine your snake’s eyes and the skin folds underneath their lower jaw. These are two favorite places for snake mites. The mites will be observable as small dots or lumps, and the area may be red and inflamed.
- Run your hand along your snake’s back. If there are any raised scales, this might be a sign that there are mites underneath.
- Look at your snake’s enclosure. Mites may be wandering around.
If you can’t see mites clearly with the naked eye, this is a good sign. In the worst infestations, you can see large groups of mites on the snake’s back.
My Snake Has White Mites
If you notice tiny white mites, and you’ve done your research, you’ll know that these aren’t normal snake mites. There are many other infestations that can affect your snake. These include the following:
- Chigger mites. These are tiny spider larvae. If you have good eyesight, you’ll be able to see that they’re red.
- Lizard mites. Can snake mites transfer to other animals? Well, lizard mites affect a whole host of reptile species but can infest snakes too. These mites are black or red.
- Hard-shelled ticks. These are similar to mites in that they bury under your snake’s scales.
- Dust mites. These are about half the size of normal snake mites. These mites are a clear or creamy white color.
- Bark mites. These can live in bark substrate. These mites can be brown, red, green, or creamy white.
How to Get Rid of Snake Mites
When treating snake mites, it’s vital that you follow a series of steps. These will ensure that you kill the mites on your snake and its home.
Because of the fast life cycle of snake mites, there’s no point in treating only the mites on your snake or its tank. If you don’t get rid of every single one, then they’ll re-establish the infestation within just a couple of weeks.
1) Remove Your Snake and Treat It
Remove your snake from its enclosure and give it a long bath. Make sure that the water is deep enough for your snake to submerge itself completely.
At the same time, don’t make the water level so high that it can’t easily poke its head out to breathe every 2-3 minutes. Leave them in there for a while. The longer they bathe, the more mites this will kill.
2) Snake Mite Spray or Dust Compound
Spray for Snake Mites
After its bath, give your pet a spray with a snake-friendly spray, such as Provent-a-Mite. You can buy it on Amazon by clicking this link. Make sure that you get a spray that’s intended for snakes, rather than a general mite killer spray.
Mites congregate around a snake’s eyes and mouth but don’t spray there directly. Spray onto a tissue or paper towel and wipe it around these areas. You should also wipe away any excess spray, but leave it to dry.
This has two effects. First, it directly kills mites that it comes into contact with. Secondly, it also discourages any mites from biting again in the future.
Homemade Snake Mite Spray
Follow this snake mite home remedy:
- Combine 1.0 ml of 1% ivermectin solution with 1 liter of water and shake the container thoroughly prior to usage
- Remove the snake from its enclosure, clean your snake’s living environment and everything inside, and spray its tank
- Spray your snake(s). This process should be repeated once every 5 weeks, and the enclosure should be sprayed once weekly
- Wash the formula off your snake with soapy water 30 minutes later
- Only use non-abrasive bedding, such as newspaper, during treatment,
Note: Create a fresh bottle of the formula at least every 30 days. It should be stored in a dark environment as Ivermectin is highly sensitive to light.
According to the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, injections of 0.2 mg/kg of Ivermectin once a week for three weeks have proven to be effective in treating snake mites. However, Ivermectin should only be administered by an experienced herp vet, not by amateurs.
Ivermectin should can be administered orally. Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, DABVP said that it can cause neurological problems in snakes if it’s not performed correctly, or in the right dosage.Reptiles Magazine
Snake Mite Dust
You can use a mite killer dust, like Nature Zone Reptile Mite Guard Powder. You can click this link to buy it on Amazon. You let the snake have a dust bath that will kill the mites naturally.
A dust compound that consists of 95.3% silica aerogel with 4.7% ammonium fluosilicate leads to huge water loss in mites. By crawling over the substance, it destroys the waterproof, wax-like layer of the epicuticle. Over 100 snakes and lizards have been treated with no ill-effects.Journal of Entomology
3) Remove the Substrate
Mites like to hide in cracks and crevices, and will gladly hide in the corners of a tank underneath the thick substrate.
In preparation for cleaning your snake’s enclosure, remove all of the substrate/bedding and throw it away. You should also replace anything that you can, and spray everything that you decide to keep. This includes:
- Water bowls
- Fake or real branches
- Cage equipment
Whatever’s in the tank, take it out, and make sure there aren’t any mites. Check seams and cracks particularly carefully.
5) Clean the Tank
Once the tank is empty, spray it from top to bottom. Remember that snake mites don’t lay their eggs on the snake, but in the snake’s environment.
It’s vital that you clean every square inch of its tank. If the tank is a cheap one, or it’s too small for your snake, you may as well get a new one.
After you’ve cleaned the tank, replace everything, and put your snake back inside. Don’t put the water bowl in the enclosure for a few days, though.
If you do, your snake might wash off the spray. This would defeat the purpose, and it might mean that your snake mites keep coming back.
Snake Mites Keep Coming Back
Snake mites are hard to get rid of because they’re parthenogenetic. This means that they can reproduce asexually (without sex). A single female snake mite on her own can produce and lay eggs, without needing to mate.
How to Prevent Snake Mites
Bad mite infestations are a sign of bad husbandry. The less attention you pay to your snake and their health, the more likely that a small infestation could become a major one.
How are you supposed to spot snake mites hiding if you don’t ever spend time with your snake? Do the following:
- Keep anti-mite spray, such as Provent-a-Mite, handy so that you can use it regularly. You can order it on Amazon by clicking this link. You don’t need to wait until you see mites to use it.
- Regularly clean your snake’s tank from top to bottom. This isn’t just for mites; it’s for your snake’s long-term health and happiness.
- Wash your hands any time that you handle a snake.
- Don’t house snakes together, both because of parasites and their general health.
- Don’t introduce your snake to other snakes. Remember, they’re not social animals, so they don’t need company. If you are going to mate your snake, make sure that their mate is entirely healthy and clean.
Treat your snake as you would any other type of pet, and you should be able to stop any snake mite infestation from becoming severe.