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Snake Mites - Identification - Removal

Information On Snake Mites - Identification - Removal

Snake Mite (Ophionyssus natricis)

Snake Mite (Ophionyssus natricis)

Think you have found mites on your snake? Please read on.

Chances are, your new snake had mites when you got him, but be aware that these little beasties can be hard to get rid of and you can re-infest your collection with any outside contact with reptiles: (pet shops, reptile exhibitions, friends' collections, etc.) What you don't see can still hitch-hike home with you and feed on your snakes!

If you have found adult mites on your snakes (they are black or red and large enough to be seen fairly easily), then you probably have several life-cycles in process in and around your terrarium. Your plan of attack has to be aimed at all of it or you will never get rid of the mites.

Snake Mites Life Cycle

Eggs: sticky, off-white, usually found in the top corners of the enclosure or in the space around the eyes or the anal vent of the snake. They hatch in 1-4 days (depending on the temperature).

Larval stage: 1-2 days; non-feeding

Protonymph stage: pale ivory/yellowish color. Looks like lint from paper towels and can be seen moving on your snake or on the terrarium walls. They can smell your reptile and travel far to get a meal from it. They must feed to metamorphose to the next stage. If you look carefully, you might see some moving over the eyes or scales of your snake. The protonymphs turn dark red after a blood-meal. Then they usually crawl off the snake to molt 12-24 hours after feeding. Engorged protonymphs are often found drowned in the water dish in snake cages and look like specks of pepper. (This is a good reason to have white or light colored water dishes.)

Deutonymph stage: dark red or black, non-feeding; doesn't usually move. This stage lasts 24 hours then sheds to become an adult.

Adult mites: Males are tan and smaller than the typical black females seen in major infestations. The adult mites suck blood from your snake (and can also pass viruses and bacteria to the snake.) A feeding session takes 1-2 days; afterwards they go off the snake to mate and lay eggs. They usually lay their eggs in the top corners of the terrarium: somewhere high, dark and moist. One adult female can lay up to 12-24 eggs at a time, and usually 60-80 in a lifetime. Adult mites live 10-32 days and can feed and mate several times. Unfed females can crawl at a rate of 11" per minute (that is 55 feet per hour!) They can crawl through cracks or air vents and screens in the cage and will find any reptile in the area. (So if you think that only one of your animals has mites, check all of them carefully anyway!) I recommend treating all of them because there may just be a pregnant female mite somewhere in the carpet between one of your enclosures and the next and she can live there for 32 days!

So, that's just a little background on what sort of enemy you are up against. Just spraying your snake with Reptile Relief, Provent-a-Mite or diluted Nix is not going to take care of your problem. You need to get rid of the protonymphs and adults feeding on your snake, as well as getting rid of eggs, larvae, deutonymphs and adults in and around your terrarium and its furnishings.

I understand that this is not the most practical solution for people with large collections, but it IS very effective, nonetheless, and perhaps a modified version could still be used with large numbers of infested snakes.


You should immediately set up a plastic container big enough for your snake to live in; with paper towel substrate, a thermometer, a water dish and hide box for your snake. Put it on a heating pad or under a heat lamp to get the correct temps. (If you have multiple snakes, the best would be a similar set up for each.) AND you need a double of the exact same set up because the snake should be switched to a new, sterilized container with a clean hide, thermometer and water dish every day during the quarantine period. (This is the system I use during the quarantine for any new snake in my collection: daily box and furnishing changes.)

Before moving the mite-infested snake from the terrarium to the plastic box, you should bathe it for AT LEAST 30 minutes in lukewarm water (28 degrees C / 82 F ). Check the temperature with a thermometer and don't guess! Some sources recommend bathing the snake for several hours or even overnight. You must make sure that the water temperature does not drop too low. I recommend moving the snake to a fresh bath every hour or so, if you decide on a long soak. Do not make the snake swim, just enough water so that the snake gets just covered when it lies at the bottom is fine. Some sources recommend adding some dish-soap to the water to suffocate the mites. (The idea is to prevent air bubbles forming around the snakes scales where the mites can survive) Only add this AFTER the snake has had a chance to drink, after 10 minutes or so. When the snake has been soaked for at least 30 minutes, spray or wipe it with Reptile Relief, or Provent-A-Mite or one of the other over-the-counter mite treatments (read the instructions carefully) before putting it in the plastic box.

This bath and box change routine should be repeated daily (pay attention: Reptile Relief should only be used on the reptile once every 3 days and is very drying for the snakes skin.) *This process breaks the life-cycle of the mites: drowning the adults and protonymphs on the snake and removing any adults crawling off to lay eggs, laid eggs or recently hatched larvae, protonymphs or deutonymphs that are in the snake box. Just bathing the snake once will most likely not kill all of the mites on the snake. Remember that eggs can take up to 4 days to hatch and can be laid in the vent or eye sockets and heat pits of your snake. Bathing for several days and ensuring that no new mites crawl onto your snake is the surest way of getting rid of them all.

So, getting rid of the mites on the snake is relatively easy. But getting rid of it in the terrarium and your house is more difficult. Remember, adults can live up to 32 days and start a whole new life-cycle at any time, so stay vigilant!

ALWAYS use rubber gloves and a mask when dealing with insecticide sprays and strong detergents such as bleach!


Now turn your attention to the terrariums/tanks: Remove and throw away the substrate (Get it out of your house immediately!) Take EVERYTHING out of the terrarium and spray it all with an insecticide containing PERMETHRIN (i.e. Provent-A-Mite) and/or freeze it below 20 C (-4 F) for at least 5 days. Vacuum up some mothballs into your vacuum cleaner and vacuum in and around all of your snake enclosures and carpets. Do this every other day: (your house will never have been so clean!!!) If you have glass or wood enclosures, scrape the corners with a blunt knife and vacuum again. (You want to get the sticky eggs out of the corners.) Disinfecting with bleach is a good idea for killing the bacteria or viruses carried by the mites, but WILL NOT kill the mite eggs.

Branches and wood products can be baked in the oven at 200-250F for 2-3 hours. (be careful that they don't burn.) Rocks can be boiled, completely submerged for 20-30 minutes. Wash all bowls with a bleach-water (1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water) solution, rinse well and let air dry. The longer, non-chemical, option is to keep everything somewhere else: i.e. a garage, cellar (or, better, a neighbor's garage or cellar!) far away from your reptiles for at least 60 days. If you have heating pads inside the tank, unplug and remove them. Clean them with soapy water, rinse and spray them off with insecticide and then bleach-water. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes then rinse and let air dry. Disconnect all light fixtures and spray/ wipe down with a permethrin solution. (I've found mites and eggs inside the cables connecting my florescent light fixtures. They do get around!)

When everything removable has be taken out of the terrarium, spray the inside with a full-strength permethrin solution and close up the terrarium. Cover all screened areas with tape or plastic and seal the terrarium completely for 3 hours (longer for bigger enclosures.) After at least 3 hours, open up the terrarium and dispose of all the tape and plastic used to seal it. RINSE the terrarium thoroughly several times with water and use a fan (if necessary) to remove all fumes. (Even if you can't smell it, it can still hurt your snake!) So completely rinse your enclosure and let it air out for at least 1 full day before re-introducing your pet. (I let mine sit for a week or more while I keep up the daily baths and box changes on my snake, and vacuuming/mopping the area around the snake enclosures every other day.)

Personally, I recommend re-introducing the snake to the terrarium with just the basics at first. A hide box or two, paper substrate and a water dish are simple enough. Keep a close eye on your snake, water bowl and terrarium walls/corners for at least 45 days. If you find mites, you must start the process all over again! In my experience, short-cuts don't work.


Author: Andrea Dannegger
Snake Mite - © Dave Barker, Tracy Barker [CC BY-SA 3.0]