Skinks are the BEST lizard

Best lizard to have as a pet

Mites, close relatives of fleas and ticks, are just as, if not more, pernicious once they have infested even one of your reptiles. The best way to get rid of them is to never get them to begin with. Unfortunately, every time you visit a pet store, reptile expo, herp society meeting, or interact with an infested herp, you risk unwittingly transporting mites into your reptile area.

Mites, like ticks, are eight-legged bloodsucking organisms. They carry and transmit diseases from one reptile to another. The mite species found infesting reptile hosts are unlikely feed on non-reptilian hosts. However, it is due to their ability to use non-reptiles as a form a public transportation that cause reptile keepers to inadvertently infect their own collections with mites.

Ticks are commonly found on wild-caught reptiles or captive bred reptiles who have been thrown in with wild-caught reptiles or kept separate but not properly quarantined. Ticks are larger than mites and, once they are locked into the reptile's skin and are feeding on blood or digesting a meal, they don't move around much. Mites are tiny and metamorphose through several stages, some of which are non-feeding morphs. Mites are highly mobile and may be found roaming around from place to place on the reptile and in the reptile's environment. Depending on the species of mite, they may be black, bright red/orange, or the color of old, dried blood.

A wild reptile is infested with mites and ticks but, being in its native environment and subject only to the rigors and stresses of an environment into which its species has adapted over millions of years, the ticks and mites present no problem. When a snake or lizard sheds its skin, it also sheds its mites and ticks. While it may eventually become host to another couple of mites or ticks, it isn't forced, as is a captive reptile, into contact with its own shed nor with the hundreds or thousands of mites replicating all through its enclosure and neighboring enclosures...and the carpet, drapes and any other cozy spot found by roving mites.

A captive reptile is under stress from the moment it is captured or boxed up for transport. The stresses and generally unsanitary conditions found in the pet trade are, in and of themselves, unhealthful for the animals involved. Add external parasites to the mix and you have animals who are further weakened. The mites may be tiny, so small that they may be easily overlooked, but they can be dangerous. Watch for them when you are at pet stores buying your reptile or supplies for your reptiles (wood products are favorite hiding places for these pests). Watch for them when you are at the homes of other reptile keepers. Watch for them when you are at reptile expos and swapmeets (most are no better than, and often worse than, pet stores in the way the animals may have been maintained). And watch for them when you handle animals at herp society meetings or when students bring in their own reptiles to share with the class.

On lizards, reptile mites can usually be found roaming the body, tucked under the edges of scales and congregating around the eyes, ears, tympanic membrane and any place on the body where the scales are thinner. On snakes, the mites will generally be tucked under the overlapping or projecting edges of scales, around the eyes, and in the heat pits. If you can see them from about three feet away, or your hand comes away with several mites on it, then you have a severe infestation. Reptiles who are moderately to severely debilitated may require fluids and nutrient supplementation to help restore fluid balance and provide energy for rapid recovery.

Mites and Chiggars...oh my!
The most common (and, not coincidentally, most often studied) type of ectoparasitic mite to infest snakes and lizards is the Ophionyssus natricis, the snake mite. Though quite small, these black, red or gray dot-sized pests can be seen moving around on the reptile skin or under their scales (especially under the belly scutes on snakes). They tend to congregate where the skin is thinnest (ears, eyelids, armpits).

In the Prostigmatid mites are two families, the Ophioptidae, inhabiting the underside of snake scales, and Cloacaridae, commonly found in the cloacal mucosa of aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles. There are two species of Clacaridae found in North American reptiles: C. faini in the snapping turtle, and C. beeri in the painted.

Chiggars mites are actually the larvae of the Trombiculid mite, another very common ectoparasite of the squamata. We tend to think of larvae as being legless grubs, like mealworms and maggots, but chigger mite larvae have six legs which enable them to move around their meal (the snake or lizard) and the greater environment. The larvae are red and frequently seen in aggregations on the reptile, preferring the cozy folds of skin, especially in the folds around the hip and arm joints, but also in the recessed areas around dorsal crests and dewlap and eyelid folds.

Why Mites Are So Hard To Kill
The chemicals that will kill a mite will also kill the reptiles. The heat that it takes to kill a mite will also kill your reptile. Mites can be drowned, but if you are not careful, enough mites can just scurry up the reptile's and emerge from the water, hanging out around the eyes and nose (and heat pits and eye grooves of pythons and boas) until things settle down. Speaking of eyes and heat pits, mites can live their entire lives inside the tiny pits and grooves around a snake's eyes or in their heat pits, feeding and breeding and making more little mites to send off into the world. Other favorite places include the chin grooves of all snakes, in between the dorsal crests of lizards, and in the folds of soft skin around their armpits, necks and ears. While snakes can be fully submerged in water, and some lizards will voluntarily do so, lizards may have to have water poured heavily sprayed over their heads and necks to flush away the mites.

Another reason it is so hard to kill them is that they spend a lot of their non-feeding and reproduction time in tiny moist crevices, both on the reptile and in its enclosure. At any one time, you will have mites in several different life stages in your reptile's enclosure and on its body. The stages, and the time it takes to morph to the next stage at certain temperatures, are:

Life Stages / Morphs

Environmental Temperature

86 F / 30 C

68 F / 20 C


28 hours

98 hours

Larva (non-feeding)

18 hours

47 hours

Protonymph (feeding)

3 days

14 days

Deuteronymph (non-feeding)

13 hours

26 hours

Adult (feeding, mating)

10 days

32 days

The protonymph will morph into a deuteronymph in the time indicated only if it finds a blood meal soon after it molts. If it does not, it can survive without a meal for 15-19 days before dying of starvation.

Since reptile enclosure temperatures fluctuate from their daytime gradients to their nighttime gradients, the time between morphing may be prolonged.

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