One of the most common afflictions that occur in pet snakes is the ubiquitous pest known as the mite. These parasitic arachnids feed on the blood and fluids from your snake, causing them irritation and discomfort. This infestation is called acariasis. The most common mite to infest snakes is known scientifically as Ophionyssus natricis. These mites will only feed on reptiles, so they will not affect you or your other non-reptilian pets; but they may use such animals to hitch a ride! That said, it is best to limit contact between the affected snake and all other animals and surfaces. They are highly transmissible and can also spread blood-borne diseases between reptiles. If left untreated, mites can severely weaken your snake, making them susceptible to other infections and even death. For these reasons, it is important that you treat a mite infestation thoroughly as soon as it is spotted.
Identifying Snake Mites
Prior to treatment, you should first confirm any signs you observe are related to a mite infestation. The questionnaire below will help you determine if your snake is infested with mites. Using a magnifier is encouraged, if you have one handy.
Has your snake been soaking in their water dish unusually often?
Inspect their water dish. Do you see any dark specks that are clearly bulbous in shape? (You may be able to identify legs with a magnifying lens).
Have you seen any small, black “dots” moving around on your snake? If yes, do you see any of them burrowed under the scales?
Do you see red, patchy clusters on your snake?
If you answered “yes” to two or more of the questions above, your snake may be suffering from a mite infestation. Mites prefer to nest underneath the chin and around the eyes, so be sure to check these areas to help confirm if your snake has mites. You may also want to rub your snake down with a paper towel and check if any mites adhere to it. Please reference the visual of snake mites below.
Treating Snake Mites
If you have confirmed a mite infestation, it is important to begin treatment immediately to prevent it from spreading. There are a few different methods of treatment that you can utilize in order to effectively rid of the mites. In this guide, we will be going over what is considered to be the safest method of treatment for ascariasis. Below is a list of supplies you will need for treatment:
Small locking bin*, just big enough to contain your snake for soaking
Blue Dawn dish soap (UK equivalent: Fairy)
RID or Nix spray (equivalent to reptile-specific Provent-O-Mite)
Separate quarantine enclosure
Step 1 Partially fill a small bin with water, using your IR thermometer gun to adjust the temperature between 83-85°F (28-29°C). The water should be deep enough for your snake to submerge their entire body in, with enough room to lift their head above water. Step 2 Slowly mix in five drops of Dawn (UK: Fairy) dish soap into the bin after it has been filled. Do NOT run water into the bin while mixing the solution. Stir the solution slowly until only a few suds remain and the water has white swirls on the surface. Step 3 Carefully submerge the infested snake in the solution and lock the bin. Soak for 15-20 minutes. Step 4 While you are waiting for your snake to soak, prepare the quarantine enclosure. For more information on how to set up a quarantine enclosure, please view the "Quarantine" section of this guide. Step 5 After soaking your snake, remove them from the bin and gently dry off with a paper towel. At this time, your snake may defecate; this is normal. Assure there is no remaining residue on them and place your snake in the quarantine enclosure, away from the site of the infestation. Step 6 You will now begin treating the infestation site. If there are any other reptiles within close proximity to the infestation, remove them from the area. After all reptiles are cleared from the infestation site, begin removing all substrate from the infested enclosure(s), and tossing anything porous that can not be thoroughly disinfected, such as wood, cardboard, or cloth. Plastic, glass and metal objects can be disinfected and reused. Step 7 Using Dawn (UK: Fairy) dish soap and HOT water, thoroughly scrub the enclosure and any non-porous items from the inside out, paying special attention to corners and crevices. Spray the enclosure and any additional items down with hot water and repeat. Spray with hot water one final time, removing any remaining residue. You may dry manually with paper towels, or let it air dry. Keep all reptiles, enclosures and additional items away from the infestation site until after Step 8. Step 8 To treat the infestation site, begin by thoroughly vacuuming the surrounding area. As with the enclosure(s), be sure you pay special attention to any corners and crevices nearby, as mites can travel quite far and will lay their eggs in cornered spaces. After vacuuming, spray the area with RID or Nix, aiming about 8-12 inches away from the surface. If using shelves, spray the treatment on a paper towel and coat the shelves. Vacuum once more and leave the area to settle for at least 24 hours before reintroducing any reptiles to the room.
Now that you have treated your snake for mites, it is important to avoid reinfestation. To do so, check your snake(s) daily for any signs of mites. You will want to change the paper towel substrate daily, inspecting it for mites each time. It is recommended that you treat the enclosure once a week for 3-4 weeks to eliminate any eggs that may remain after initial treatment. Keep your snake in quarantine for at least 90 days. If a reinfestation does occur, repeat treatment from Step 1. If you end up suffering a severe infestation that has not been successfully treated using the methods provided above, you may want to consider consulting with a qualified veterinarian about ivermectin injections or other forms of treatment geared towards heavier infestations.
In order to properly execute quarantine protocol, there are certain procedures that must be taken to assure a sterile and controlled environment for your snake(s). The most important aspect of quarantine is that it takes place in an area separate from all of your other reptiles. This is to contain any potential illnesses or diseases and prevent them from spreading. You will also need separate enclosure(s) on hand for quarantine use only. Due to the substrate requirements for proper protocol, your quarantine enclosure(s) should ideally be a plastic locking-lid tub for ease of disinfection. With the enclosure(s), You will also need to supply the basic necessities in order to keep your snake as happy and healthy as possible while in quarantine. This includes heat, substrate, a water dish and possibly hides. If you are using bins and need an external heat source, a UTH (under tank heater) equipped with a thermostat set to your regular temperatures will do. For substrate, paper towels are preferred if possible so that you may easily watch for a reinfestation. A plastic water dish is recommended, but any water dish can be used as long as it has been disinfected and is large enough for your snake. You will also want to provide two plastic hides to ensure your snake feels secure, unless your enclosure is completely dark and opaque. Nothing else should be added to the quarantine enclosure (such as clutter or additional enrichment) unless deemed absolutely necessary to help better contain any illness and disease. Your quarantine period can last as long as you see fit, but the standard time frame is 90 days for a snake mite infestation.
How can I prevent snake mites? While an infestation can be unpredictable at times, you can prevent them from spreading by practicing strict quarantine protocol. An infestation usually results after acquiring an infested snake, and lack of proper quarantine procedures will cause the infestation to rapidly spread. However, mites can and will “hitch a ride” on anything, including humans, rodents, and bags of substrate. Mites in all stages of life die after five seconds of exposure to temperatures above 131°F (55°C), therefore baking an infested items that can safely withstand these temperatures will kill the mites. How does Dawn dish soap kill snake mites? Snake mites have a waxy coating covering their exoskeleton, known as the exocuticle. The exocuticle prevents outside water from getting into the mite, and vise versa. When this waxy coating is broken down, the mite will begin to lose internal water (thus dehydrate), and is also susceptible to drowning since it can no longer block external water from getting in. Dawn dish soap works by stripping the waxy coating to dehydrate them, and then by reducing the surface tension of water, allowing them to drown. Therefore, they are being dehydrated and then drowned at the same time. Is Dawn dish soap safe for my snake? Absolutely, as long as you are using the blue variant (green for UK: Fairy); other dish soaps often contain harmful chemicals. However, blue Dawn is safe for reptiles and is used in such a small quantity that it will pose no harm to your snake. This is a very common method of mite treatment for snakes, and is by far the safest. Is RID or Nix the same thing as Provent-O-Mite? Yes. RID and Nix have the same exact ingredients as Provent-O-Mite, but are much easier to find and are far cheaper. How long is the life cycle of a snake mite? The complete life cycle of a snake mite lasts between 2-3 weeks, depending on environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. How long can snake mites go without a blood meal? Depending on the stage of life, a snake mite can live up to three weeks without a blood meal.