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Treat Mites in Your Reptile's Terrarium without Chemicals! | Natural and Safe

Treat Mites in Your Reptile's Terrarium without Chemicals! | Natural and Safe

Battling Reptile Mites NATURALLY: Beneficial Insects and Nematodes

Mites are tiny parasitic arachnids that feed on your reptile's blood. They can be more than just a nuisance; causing irritation and stress to your reptile, even anemia, blood borne illness, and death in severe cases. Most keepers go right to chemical warfare against these blood sucking pests, and trash the beautiful enclosure they worked so hard to establish in the process.

Thankfully, there are natural ways to combat parasitic mites using the power of beneficial insects and nematodes! Best of all, these beneficial bugs will not harm your reptile!


Understanding the Enemy

Before unleashing the good guys, it's important to identify the specific mite you're dealing with.

The most common type of mite affecting captive reptiles is snake mites (Ophionyssus natricus)

Despite being called “snake mites”, they will prey upon both snakes and lizards. Mites may range from black, to gray, to red, depending on their lifestage and how engorged with blood they are. They tend to cluster around the eyes, in heat pits, under armpits, and around the vent, but they may be present under scales throughout the body.

Snake mites are incredibly sneaky, and they are not always the result of inadequate quarantine or poor husbandry practice. A single female can be carried in on clothing and infest an entire collection through asexual reproduction. 

Introducing the Cavalry: Beneficial Insects!

Predatory mites are natural enemies of reptile mites. Fighting Mites with Mites?! 

Here are two common choices:

  • Hypoaspis Miles:
    These tiny, orange mites hunt and consume all stages of the mite life cycle, from eggs to adults. They thrive and are most prolific in slightly damp environments that are under 82.5ºƒ, and can establish a long-term presence in your enclosure. Once they have eradicated the pest mites, they can be sustained by consuming springtails or by cannibalizing their own species. 

  • Cheyletus Eruditus :
    This mite species is a newer biological approach to snake mites, which thrives at higher temperatures and humidity levels that are more in line with captive snakes. These mites also eat all life stages of snake mite and have been found to help control snake mite infestations. Once all snake mites have been eradicated, they will die off. 
    Want to learn more? Check out this study!
Nematodes: Microscopic Warriors

Nematodes are microscopic roundworms that parasitize and kill insect pests, including mites. Steinernema feltiae is a particularly effective species for reptile enclosures. They are applied directly to the substrate and hunt down mite larvae and pupae in the soil, without harming the clean up crew! 

Taking Action: A Multi-Pronged Approach

1. Isolate Your Reptile:

Mites can easily spread to other reptiles. During treatment, house your reptile in a separate, mite-free sterile setup far away from other reptiles that can be easily cleaned. Use paper towels as substrate and plastic hides and water dishes that can be washed daily.

2. Initial Bath:

Allow your reptile to soak in a room temperature to luke-warm bath with a drop of Dawn dish soap. The dish soap will compromise the mite’s exoskeleton and break surface tension so mites cannot float to the top and seek refuge on your reptile’s head.

(Safety tips: Add ventilation holes to the container. Keep water levels below head level, just enough to go over their back. Always monitor your reptile while in a soak. Do not allow water temperature to exceed typical enclosure temperatures!!). 

3. Smother the Survivors:

After their soak, use a paper towel to wipe the animal off to remove moisture and any clinging mites. Using a natural oil, like coconut oil, bring the oil to its liquid state and run it over the entirety of your reptile using your hands, paying special attention to areas where mites tend to cluster. The oil will coat and smother the remaining mites that did not fall off during the soak. Use a paper towel to remove excess oil and check for mites on the paper towel. Return your snake to their clean quarantine enclosure. 

4. Monitor and Repeat:

The dish soap soak and oil approach is a gentle one, which can be safely done daily. The biggest risk of this approach is stress to your animal, and leaving the animal unattended in too high of water or water that is improper temperature. If you choose to use a chemical approach, please closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid harm to your reptile. 

5. Isolate and Lay Defense:

Keep your reptile isolated from the rest of your animals and their enclosure for 30 days from the last sign of mites. You may surround the infected enclosure and your reptile’s quarantine setup with a ring of dish soap or diatomaceous earth to kill any mites trying to wander away from the area in search of another food source. Without a host, snake mites should break their life cycle in under a week.

Important Considerations

  • Not a Quick Fix: Be patient. Eradicating mites with natural methods takes time and persistence. Soaking and applying oil to the animal will only slow the cycle, not break it entirely if beneficial mites are not applied to the enclosure to eradicate the eggs and hatching larvae. 30 days of the animal being out of the enclosure and free of mites is required. Introducing the snake to the enclosure with a single mite could start the cycle back up again if a steady population of predatory mites is not established in the enclosure. The enclosure also has the potential to reinfest the snake if enough time has not passed to break the life cycle of the mites or if the mites are able to feed from another host. 
  • Substrate Matters: Beneficial insects and nematodes work best with organic, moisture-retaining substrates like coconut fiber, top soil, or other similar substrates.
  • Maintain Hygiene: During treatment, continue cleaning the quarantine enclosure regularly and remove any unnecessary wood and decor in the main enclosure. Mites will die in several days under 35ºƒ or over 106ºƒ. Removing any branches and decor and freezing (or baking/laying out in the sun) while your predatory mites get to work will help lessen the parasite load in the enclosure. Once these items have also been isolated and all life stages have not had a chance to feed or been killed, they may be put back into the enclosure. 


Mites are likely to strike every reptile keeper at some point. Do not put yourself down for having a mite outbreak. Instead, educate yourself on how to eradicate the issue and prevent future outbreaks from happening. 

By utilizing beneficial insects and nematodes, you can combat reptile mites safely and effectively. Remember, patience, a multi-pronged approach, and maintaining good enclosure hygiene are key to a successful mite battle! 

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