Parasitic snake mites can badly affect your pet’s health. Mites on snakes are easily visible after they’ve fed, but they can be tough to get rid of without a scientifically-approved treatment.
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 damage your snake’s health.
- 1 What Are Snake Mites?
- 2 What Do Snake Mites Feed On?
- 3 Can Mites Kill My Snake?
- 4 How Long Can Snake Mites Live?
- 5 How Did My Snake Get Mites?
- 6 How to Tell If Your Snake Has Mites
- 7 Signs of Snake Mite Infestation
- 8 How to Get Rid of Snake Mites
- 9 Snake Mites Keep Coming Back
- 10 How to Prevent Snake Mites
What Are Snake Mites?
Snake mites are tiny parasites that are about 1 mm long, or 1/32 of an inch. Despite their small size, they’re easy to see because they become a little bigger after they’ve fed.
They infest both your snake and your snake’s environment. A mite doesn’t just live on your snake. They feed before finding a corner, crack or crevice to go and lay eggs in.
Eggs only take between 1 and 4 days to hatch, which means that they can reproduce very quickly. They also don’t need to mate to lay eggs.
Their life cycle takes between 2 and 3 weeks. There are two kinds of snake mite, the most common being Ophionyssus natricis, the common snake mite. Ophionyssus acertinus 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 hose, and are called endoparasites. Snake mites feed on your snake’s blood.
Can Mites Kill My Snake?
One mite, while annoying, is no real problem. However, a group of a hundred mites requires a hundred 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, therefore, 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 unlikely killer, again, indirectly causing early mortality.
Stress also causes many problematic behaviors, including nose rubbing, where the snake rubs their nose against the walls of their enclosure. This is a sign of agitation, and can cause infection.
However, an infection has to be severe for these effects to occur. If your snake is neglected enough to have such a severe infestation, they may also be starving or seriously ill.
Do Snake Mites Bite Humans?
Snake mites can bite humans.
A case study in the Iranian Journal of Parasitology looked at a man who worked in a zoo. One day, he went to the doctor complaining of dermatitis.
He had also noticed small insects that were fixed to his skin and was aware that the python he worked with was covered in them too.
Upon closer inspection, it was found that he was infested with Ophionyssus natricis, the most common form of snake mite.
How Long Can Snake Mites Live?
Snake mites have a life cycle of between two and three 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 even longer.
In total, they 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?
There are many sources that you have to watch out for. Depending on your snake’s enclosure and the way that you rear them, you should be able to tell where they came from.
1) From the Pet Store
In pet stores, you commonly see snakes housed together. You also see employees who aren’t experts with snakes regularly handling them without washing their hands.
Once a small infestation of mites has established itself, it can quickly spread to every snake in the store. Then, once they’re there, they’re very hard to get rid of. And even if they were completely eradicated, they would no doubt be back again soon from a new wild-caught snake.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to every pet store in the U.S. Many, especially the ones that focus on lizards, reptiles, and snakes, are much better. However, mites are a common problem in pet stores. This is why it’s often a better idea to buy from a local breeder that focuses solely on snakes.
2) Snakes Sharing an Enclosure
If you keep more than one snake in an enclosure, this facilitates the spread of mites. The moment one snake catches mites, the other will get them too.
That’s because mites don’t just live on the snake, but in their environment too. They therefore quickly spread from one snake to another.
Say for example that you have a massive tank with five snakes in it. You then buy another snake from a breeder, but unbeknownst to you, the snake has mites.
You then house the snake with the others. Unfortunately, it will only be a matter of days before the rest of the snakes have mites too.
3) Infested Preowned Enclosures
If you buy a second-hand enclosure, there’s a chance that it could be infested. Mites live in cracks and crevices and are difficult to get rid of.
So, if you buy a pre-used enclosure, there’s every chance that it could have had mites or even just eggs in it. If it did, then it will only take a matter of two weeks for one mite to become a full-blown infestation.
Only buy brand new enclosures rather than second-hand or from a thrift store. It is as simple as that. If you must purchase a second-hand tank, clean it thoroughly with anti-mite spray before use. The same applies to anything that you buy from a thrift store for your snake.
Alternatively, make sure that you buy 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 concerning 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 their pet. 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 and infections, and also seeing if they’re generally healthy (not overweight or underweight, not retaining their shed skin, and appearing curious/active).
5) Infested Wild Caught Snakes
Wild-caught snakes almost always have mites or an infection/infestation.
Back in the day, every single pet snake was a wild-caught snake. Today though, almost all of the most common pet snakes are captive from birth. This includes ball pythons, corn snakes, boa constrictors and western hognoses.
They’re so popular that breeders started breeding them specifically to sell, which is why there are so many morphs available of these snakes. With optimal husbandry and appropriate living conditions, these snakes would never encounter mites in their lives.
However, wild-caught snakes are almost always infested. In the wild, they can easily catch mites from other snakes during mating, fighting, or just from their environment.
If you’re getting a brand-new 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, practically 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.
To avoid this problem, ask the breeder whether they were captive bred, or whether they were caught in the wild. Buying a captive bred snake is also a wiser choice because they tend to be more comfortable with handling and pre-killed food.
6) Contact with You
Your snake can catch mites solely 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.
This is exacerbated by the fact that mites can feed on humans (although they can’t live on you). They’re also small, meaning they’re difficult to spot unless you’re looking for them. This makes it much easier to pass them on accidentally.
It’s easy. Any time that you hold a snake wash your hands straight after. This isn’t just important because of mites, but because of infections as well. Most snakes carry salmonella on their skin, which can cause diarrhea, fever, cramps and similar.
How to Tell If Your Snake Has Mites
Identifying mites on a snake is quite easy. In the most severe of infestations, they’re immediately evident as small dots on the snake’s back.
In relatively light infestations, they might be harder to spot. You also have to bear in mind that they don’t just live on snakes, but in their enclosures too.
Let’s take a look at how to spot snake mites, including what color they are, what kind of rashes they cause, and behavioral signs too.
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, though, they turn a dark red or even black color. They also become engorged (much bigger) compared to their previous size.
They’re full of blood that they’re digesting. If you’re familiar with them, it’s the same rule that applies to tics and bed bugs.
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. It’s not unique to snakes and can happen to many different common pets. It can, of course, also affect wild animals.
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 and is also known as retained shed.
Dysecdysis occurs in serious mite infections and often co-occurs with other signs of poor husbandry. Say that your snake sheds every month. If they have dysecdysis, they will still shed regularly, but their dried and shed skin will stay stuck to them. They 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, for example, the tissue in their tail tip will die and drop off.
This can cause necrosis, where more and more tissue dies. Eventually, your snake will die too. Retained eye caps can cause your snake to become blind.
Signs of Snake Mite Infestation
Snakes aren’t stupid and will know if they have a snake 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, they can hold their breath for quite a while (minutes at a time). Snake mites can’t, though, so this is how your snake manages to control the number of mites in an infestation.
- After your snake bathes, take a look at the water in their bowl. If you see tiny dots, either moving or still, these are snake mites.
- Another behavioral change is lethargy. This means that your snake is far less active than usual, sitting still and not appearing curious.
- Your snake also won’t be eating as much. When you try to feed them as usual, they won’t strike at their food. They’ll act disinterested and will only eat far more occasionally.
- Examine your snake’s eyes, and the skin folds underneath their lower jaw. These are two favorite haunts for snake mites. The mites will be observable as small dots or lumps around the edge of your snake’s eye, which will 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 them.
- Take a look around your snake’s enclosure. There may be mites 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. So, if you can’t see any, this means that the infestation is relatively under control.
My Snake Has White Snake 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 your snake can catch.
These include the following:
- Chigger mites, which are tiny spider larvae. These mites are almost too small to see. But if you have good eyesight, you’ll be able to see that they’re red.
- Lizard mites. Can snake mites transfer to other animals? You bet. Lizard mites affect a whole host of reptile species but can infest snakes too. These mites are black or red.
- Hard-shelled ticks, which are similar to mites in that they bury under your snake’s scales.
- Dust mites, which are about half the size of normal snake mites. These mites are a clear or creamy white color.
- Bark mites, which can live in bark substrate. These mites can be brown, red, green or creamy white.
None of these infestations are as common as snake mites. But the good news is that you can get rid of them in much the same way as normal snake mites.
How to Get Rid of Snake Mites
Getting rid of snake mites is a real chore because they’re difficult to kill. Fortunately, because they’re such a common pest, there are many products.
When treating snake mites, it’s vital that you follow a series of steps. These steps will ensure that you kill the mites on your snake, as well as in their environment.
Because of the fast life cycle of snake mites, there’s no point in treating only the mites on your snake or only the mites in their tank. If you don’t kill every single one, then they’ll re-establish the infestation within just a couple of weeks.
1) Remove Your Snake and Treat Them
First, you have to remove your snake from its enclosure. Once removed, try giving them a long bath. Make sure that the water is deep enough for your snake to submerge themselves completely.
At the same time, don’t make the water level so high that they can’t easily poke their head out. And by ‘long,’ we don’t mean a bath long enough to fit a six-foot-long snake without them coiling up—we suggest leaving them in there for a while. The longer they bathe, the more mites this will kill.
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.
2) Snake Mite Spray
After their bath, give them a spray with a snake-friendly spray, such as Provent-a-Mite. You can buy it on Amazon by clicking this link or from a local retailer. Make sure that you get one that’s specifically intended for snakes, rather than a general mite killer spray.
Mites congregate around a snake’s eyes and mouth but don’t spray here 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. But it also discourages any mites from biting again in the future. That’s why mite spray is an essential part of the process.
3) Home Remedy for Snake Mites
Be careful if you’re thinking of using ‘natural’ remedies to kill mites. They might not be as natural or safe as you think.
Pyrethroids and permethrins are an excellent example. They’re insecticides that some people use for bed bugs. They’re thought of as more natural than other pesticides because they’re derived from feverfew and chrysanthemums.
Unfortunately, they’re a handy product for killing snakes and other reptiles. According to a report by the FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency), an oral dose of permethrin killed 40% of brown snake trees it was administered to.
At larger doses, pyrethrins killed 100% of snakes as an oral dose, and even 40% of snakes as just a dermal dose (on their skin). So, if you’re thinking of using an insecticide that you already have handy, don’t. You could be killing a lot more than just mites.
Instead, stick with tried-and-tested insecticides that are designed explicitly for snake mites.
4) Remove Their Substrate
You should also remove the substrate from their tank. Mites love 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 and throw it away. You should also replace anything that isn’t too expensive, and spray anything that you need to keep.
This includes the following:
- 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 with special care.
5) Clean Their Tank
Once their tank is entirely empty, spray it from top to bottom. Remember that snake mites don’t lay their eggs on the snake itself, but in the snake’s environment.
It’s therefore vital that you clean every square inch of their tank. If the tank is a cheap one, or it’s too small for your snake, you may as well buy a nice new one.
Snake mites can also live around the snake’s vivarium, although this isn’t very common. If you take a look around their enclosure and find snake mites in carpet or other soft furnishings, vacuum the area and spray it with anti-mite spray.
After you’ve cleaned the tank, replace everything, and put your snake back in. Don’t put the water bowl in the enclosure for a few days, though.
If you do, your snake might wash off the spray that you put on them. This would defeat the purpose of putting it on and might mean that your snake mites keep coming back.
Snake Mites Keep Coming Back
Snake mites are notoriously hard to get rid of. This is partly because they’re parthenogenetic. This incredibly long word 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.
This is more common than you might think. According to Live Science, rattlesnakes, yellow-bellied water snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, boas and Burmese pythons can all reproduce in this way too. Brahmini blind snakes produce solely parthenogenetically, and the entire population is female.
How to Prevent Snake Mites
Bad mite infestations are a sure sign of bad husbandry. In the worst infestations, they often co-occur with retained sheds, being underweight, and respiratory infections. None of these conditions are linked to mites, but there’s one significant cause behind them all. Neglect.
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, and don’t even feed them enough?
Just by handling your pet, spending time with them and treating them as you would any other pet, you can spot and prevent mites.
Try the following ideas:
- 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 their long-term health and happiness.
- Wash your hands any time that you handle a snake, for your health and theirs.
- Don’t house snakes together, both because of parasites, and because of 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 beforehand.
Treat your snake like you would any other pet, and you should be able to stop any mites in their tracks.