Snake Mite (Ophionyssus natricis) infections – Acariasis
1. What are snake mites?
Snake mites are small (1 mm) parasites that live on snakes and some lizards and lay their eggs in the enclosure. An infection with mites is called Acariasis.
Snake mites attach themselves to the skin under the scales and feed on blood and fluid. Clinical signs of Acariasis in reptiles include severe itchiness, reduced feeding, dysectysis (abnormal shed), or the presence of ‘mite dust’ which looks like white dandruff or dust on the skin and scales. Some snakes will soak themselves in water bowls to relieve their itchy skin.
Acariasis is often diagnosed based on the clinical signs or by observing mites. Snake mites can be seen in the enclosure or hidden under scales, especially around the eyes and mouth. Finding mite eggs inside the enclosure (usually in cracks and crevices) is also enough to suspect a mite infestation.
Snake mites can crawl from one reptile to another if they are housed together or in nearby enclosures. They can also be transferred accidentally by people, on their hands or clothing, after handling infected reptiles and then handling their own reptiles.
The life cycle of snake mites (the period from egg to adult) can last as long as 7 weeks. Therefore any natural sticks, logs and previously infected enclosures that have not been kept reptile-free for 7 weeks can occasionally harbour mites or eggs from the wild and then infect your reptile.
Mites can be killed with pyrethrin sprays or washes. In some cases your reptile veterinarian may use ivermectin injections, or dilute ivermectin or fipronil washes. Both the reptile and the enclosure will need to be treated, often 1 to 2 weeks apart for 4-8 weeks. Any objects in the enclosure need to be thoroughly cleaned or replaced. Remove reptiles from the enclosure for 7 to 9 weeks.
Always quarantine new reptiles for at least 8-12 weeks. Have them health-checked by your veterinarian and treated for mites before placing them with other reptiles. Thoroughly clean any natural objects before putting them in the enclosure. Avoid handling other reptiles or ensure thorough handwashing and change clothing between handling different reptiles. Avoid sharing furniture, bowls and equipment between different reptile enclosures.
NOTE: Some anti-parasitic drugs are toxic and dangerous to use on reptiles so always check with a reptile veterinarian before using any chemical sprays or washes.
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