Ticks are small parasites that feed on the blood of snakes and other animals. As well as being unsightly and irritating, snake ticks can spread diseases and cause health problems.
You can remove snake ticks using tweezers or a tick-removal tool, such as TickEase, which is available on Amazon.com. Grasp the tick’s head, close to your snake’s skin, and gently pull upwards. You should also treat your snake’s vivarium with Provent-a-Mite, to kill any lingering ticks and eggs. Discard all substrate and spray the product around the inside of the enclosure. Leave it to dry fully before putting your snake back inside.
Take your snake to a vet if you’re not confident at removing ticks from a snake. Ticks can cause infections if they’re removed incorrectly. Large infestations, and ticks in sensitive areas, should be dealt with by a vet.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Are Snake Ticks?
What Are Snake Ticks?
Ticks are a kind of blood-sucking parasite that can affect snakes. They don’t live on their host’s body permanently. A tick will bite a snake when it’s hungry, and drop off again when it’s full. In the meantime, it will live and lay eggs in the surrounding environment (i.e. your snake’s vivarium).
When a tick is hungry, its body is small. But as it feeds, over the course of 5-12 days, its body swells to many times its original size. Ticks are easy to see with the naked eye, and they’re particularly visible when full.
Belonging to the family Arachnida, ticks aren’t insects, but are instead related to spiders and mites. They’re some of the oldest arachnids in the world, having been around for at least 90 million years.
There isn’t one particular kind of ‘snake tick’. There are over 800 different species of ticks, split into two families: hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae). Both kinds of ticks can affect snakes.
The same ticks that feed on snakes can infest other animals. So, it’s possible for a tick to pass from a snake to one of your other pets, or vice versa.
How Do Snakes Get Ticks?
Ticks live outdoors, and can be found all over the U.S. According to PLOS One, different species of tick prefer different environments. Some enjoy cool, moist wooded areas, whereas others prefer warm and open habitats.
While ticks are more common in wild snakes, they can also affect captive (pet) snakes. The tick has to enter your home somehow, and find its way to your snake’s enclosure. This can happen in many ways:
- You may unknowingly pick up a tick while outside, then bring it home
- Buying a second-hand snake vivarium or accessory that is harboring tick eggs
- Putting a natural decoration, such as a rock or log, inside your snake’s enclosure without sterilizing it
Snakes can also pick up ticks directly from other animals. If you have any other pets, of any species, ticks may travel from them to your snake. Ticks can climb and walk surprisingly far, so this can happen even if your animals have separate enclosures.
According to Parasitology, some species of snake tick can lay up to 1,300 eggs per month. If a female tick lays eggs in your snake’s vivarium, this could cause a major infestation.
What Do Snake Ticks Look Like?
Snake ticks are 8-legged bugs that look like small spiders. They have mouthparts on the front of the head, but these are invisible when feeding on your snake. Ticks can bury their entire heads in their host’s skin.
The body of a tick can look reddish, blueish-gray, tan, or brown. Its color depends on its species, and whether it’s hungry or has recently eaten. A tick’s body will look darker when it’s full of blood.
The smallest ticks can be 1mm long when unfed, but they expand as they feed. Even when empty, ticks are significantly bigger than mites (which are the size of a pinpoint).
When you first see a tick on your snake’s body, you may mistake it for an oddly-shaped scale. Ticks can also burrow partly underneath the scales, so only a small part sticks out.
Ticks can be found anywhere on the body of a snake. However, they seem to prefer the head and neck areas, particularly around the eyes.
Soft ticks (Argasidae) are less common than hard ticks (Ixodidae). Soft ticks’ bodies can appear wrinkled, and their mouthparts are located on their undersides. Whichever kind of tick your snake has, the health consequences and treatments are the same.
Are Ticks Dangerous for Snakes?
Ticks aren’t merely unsightly and irritating to your snake. They can also cause a multitude of health problems, some of which can be serious.
Infestations of multiple ticks are particularly dangerous, but one tick alone is enough to cause an issue. For example:
- Ticks can spread viruses and bacteria, which lead to diseases such as Inclusion Body Disease (IBD)
- Tick bite wounds can become infected and this may lead to sepsis, which is often fatal
- Certain ticks can carry tiny parasites, such as hemogregarines, which live in the blood
- Large tick bites can lead to abscesses and ulcers, which can be painful for your snake
- If you leave the infestation untreated, your snake could become anemic (lack of blood cells). This can result in weakness, listlessness, and a fast heartbeat.
Symptoms of a Tick Infestation
A snake tick infestation is usually obvious, because you can see the ticks themselves. However, ticks can hide out in places on your snake’s body that you might not notice.
Some species of snake tick are small enough to miss when handling your snake. Look out for the symptoms that indicate a tick infestation:
- Raised scales on the body. You’ll feel these when your snake slithers through your hands. Ticks can burrow underneath a snake’s scales.
- Excessive bathing. Spending a lot of time in the water dish is a snake’s natural instinct when infested with ticks or mites. It relieves some of the irritation, and helps to drown the parasites.
- Rubbing against objects in the enclosure. Snakes naturally do this when they’re starting to shed. But it can also be a symptom of the itching and irritation associated with a tick infestation.
- Problems shedding (dysecdysis). Your snake’s shed skin may be broken or missing pieces.
- Appetite loss which may lead to weight loss.
- Aggression and listlessness can arise when snakes are uncomfortable or in pain.
- Scabs, blood spots or tiny wounds on your snake’s body.
How to Remove Ticks from Snakes
Ticks are easy to see with the naked eye. If there are only a few ticks, you can remove them manually.
However, there is a technique to tick removal. If you do it wrong, the tick’s mouthparts could break off and remain in your snake. This could cause a nasty infection.
To remove snake ticks properly, use a pair of pointed tweezers. You can also use a professional tick-removal tool, such as the TickEase on Amazon. You will also need a snake-safe disinfectant, such as iodine.
Snake tick removal is easiest if you have a friend hold the snake still. But if your snake is calm, you can do it yourself:
- Using a tick removal tool, grasp the tick as close to your snake’s skin as possible. The tool should be holding the tick’s head, not its abdomen.
- Slowly and steadily, pull the tick upwards. Do not yank, twist, or pull too hard. It may take up to a minute for the tick to come free.
- Examine the tick to check that its head is intact. Then, dispose of the tick in alcohol, or seal it in tape and throw it in the trash.
- Use iodine to disinfect the bite wound.
Take your snake to a veterinarian if you can’t remove the tick, or if part of the tick is stuck in your snake. If there are any ticks around the eyes, nostrils or heat pits, these should also be removed professionally.
Your veterinarian may recommend putting your snake on antibiotics, to prevent the bite wounds from becoming infected.
Removing Ticks from a Snake’s Enclosure
Ticks can hide out in your snake’s vivarium, and lay eggs in the substrate. When these eggs hatch, an infestation can start all over again.
So, you must also treat your snake’s vivarium, to kill any lingering ticks and eggs. The best way to do this is by using a treatment called Provent-a-Mite. This is a permethrin-based insecticide that is safe for use in reptile enclosures.
Provent-a-Mite is the only EPA-approved tick treatment for snakes. If used correctly, it kills all ticks and eggs, and one treatment can last for over 30 days. It also kills snake mites.
You can use Provent-a-Mite on the enclosure itself, and hard (non-porous) accessories, such as plastic hides. Don’t get any Provent-a-Mite on your skin or your snake, as it’s toxic when wet.
Remove your snake from the vivarium before use, and discard any substrate. Put your snake back in only when the product has dried completely. Refer to the instructions on the label, and follow them carefully.
Do Natural Snake Tick Treatments Work?
Some snake owners prefer to use “all-natural” treatments and home remedies for snake ticks. However, we would advise against using them.
Natural tick treatments are often made from essential oils. While essential oils can kill parasites, they can also be harmful to reptiles. Essential oils are very dangerous for young snakes, and snakes that have recently shed.
Home remedies for ticks such as olive oil and dish soap don’t work. They may make it harder for the tick to attach, but they won’t get rid of the infestation.
Never try to remove a tick using home remedies such as petroleum jelly, butter, alcohol, or fire. An injured tick may regurgitate blood back into your snake. This could transfer diseases or blood parasites from the tick’s previous hosts.
How to Prevent Ticks on Snakes
If you’re not thorough enough with the insecticide, you may find that the ticks come back. This will happen if you miss some eggs. Tick eggs can hide out in tiny cracks, and stay dormant for up to 60 days before hatching.
To prevent your snake from getting ticks again, regularly treat the vivarium and accessories with Provent-a-Mite. Do this once every month for at least 6 months, to be sure all the eggs are dead.
Unfortunately, after the infestation is killed, your snake could get ticks again from an outside source. There is no guaranteed way to ensure this never happens. But there are some things you can do to make it less likely.
- Never buy used or second-hand terrariums, accessories or substrate for your snake.
- After you and/or your pets return from a walk, check their fur and your clothes thoroughly for ticks.
- Keep your snake in a room where no other pets are allowed. Never allow your snake contact with other animals.
- Wash your hands and arms before and after touching your snake.
Regularly clean your snake’s enclosure, including accessories, and change the substrate often. Sterilize the new substrate by placing it in the freezer overnight before using it in the vivarium.