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How to Prevent Reptile Mites | Zen Habitats

How to Prevent Reptile Mites | Zen Habitats

Proactive Measures for Preventing Snake Mite Infestations

What ARE Reptile/Snake Mites?

Snake mites (Ophionyssus natricus), are microscopic parasitic arachnids that feed on the blood of captive reptiles. These infestations can cause significant discomfort and health concerns, such as anemia, bloodborne illnesses, and even lead to death.
O. natricus can reproduce asexually, meaning even a single mite can quickly infect an entire collection. These tiny menaces have a 16-19 day life cycle and can live for up to a week without a host.
Fortunately, implementing a multi-pronged prevention strategy can significantly reduce the risk of snake mites establishing themselves within your reptile collection.

Quarantine is Key

The cornerstone of any effective snake mite prevention plan is a rigorous quarantine protocol for all newly acquired reptiles. Newly introduced animals should be housed in a quarantine enclosure, isolated from your existing collection, for a minimum of 4-6 weeks. During this period, conduct thorough visual examinations of the reptile, paying close attention to areas like the vent (cloaca), the armpits or heat pits (if applicable), and beneath scales, for any signs of mite activity. Using paper towel as substrate will allow for rapid detection of mites against the light colored substrate, and a large water dish that allows the animal to submerge will clue in to animals seeking to soak; a typical behavior of animals attempting to rid themselves of a mite infestation. 

Maintaining a Sanitary Environment

Excellent hygiene protocols are paramount for preventing snake mite infestations. This includes:

  • Handwashing: Meticulously wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling your snake, cleaning its enclosure, or interacting with any reptile supplies.
  • Enclosure Hygiene: Regularly clean the snake's enclosure. This involves daily spot cleaning and a complete disinfection with hot, soapy water and a reptile-safe disinfectant solution every few weeks.
  • Substrate Management: Consider more frequent substrate changes, particularly during suspected mite outbreaks. This disrupts the mite life cycle and reduces their ability to establish a population.
  • Routine: Tending to quarantine animals last in your routine keeps from cross contaminating any mites from your quarantine area to other established animal areas. 

Mitigating External Threats

Several potential sources can introduce snake mites into your collection. Here's how to minimize these risks:

  • Scrutinize Used Equipment: Avoid using pre-owned reptile equipment or supplies without thoroughly disinfecting it with hot soapy water, steam, baking, or freezing. 
  • Sterilize Substrate: If purchasing substrate from a pet shop or reptile expo, understand that mites or mite eggs could be hiding in the bag. A good habit to get into is to freeze substrate (below 35ºƒ)  for several days before use will kill off all life stages of mites. Alternatively, placing the substrate in a reptile free area such as a garage or cellar for at least a week will cause any mites to die.  
  • Say NO to Hitchhikers: Any time you are attending a reptile expo, visiting a pet store that sells reptiles, or going to visit anyone that owns reptiles, you should change clothes upon coming home, remove shoes, and wash your body before going in your own reptile spaces to reduce the risk of bringing hitchhikers into your collection. 

Exploring Beneficial Control Agents (Optional)

As a preventative measure, some reptile keepers choose to introduce beneficial mites to their snake's enclosure. These beneficial mites act as natural predators, actively consuming reptile mites and helping to maintain control of populations. To learn more about fighting mites with mites, check out our article “Treating Mites in Your Reptile's Terrarium the Natural and SAFE Way”

Early Detection and Intervention

Early detection of a snake mite infestation is crucial for minimizing its impact on your snake's health. Familiarize yourself with the signs of a mite problem, which include:

  • Black specks on the snake's skin, particularly concentrated around the eyes or vent area
  • Lethargy and decreased activity levels
  • Increased soaking behavior
  • Increase in shedding, especially accompanied by dull looking skin

Look over your animal often to help quickly identify potential mite infestations. 

By implementing these proactive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of snake mites and ensure the continued health and well-being of your reptilian friend. Getting snake mites is not a matter of “if”, it is a matter of “when”. Everyone who keeps reptiles will eventually run into snake mites. It is best to be educated and prepared to take action so you can eradicate the issue as early as possible. 

Remember, a combination of a clean environment, meticulous hygiene practices, and vigilance are your best weapons in the fight against these tiny yet troublesome pests!

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