Dealing with Mites - Fighting Fire with Fire - Reptile Forums

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Old 25-05-2016, 06:07 PM
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Red face Dealing with Mites - Fighting Fire with Fire

I got asked to post this over from another forum, apologies if it's in the wrong section.

Snake Mites, Reptile Mites, Black Pin Heads of Doom, whatever you call them, they are amongst the top fears of Reptile Keepers and can be an absolute pain to resolve.

Snake Mites (Ophionyssus natricis) are a small parasitic species of Mite that feed on the blood of most Ectotherms. They are well adapted to pushing their heads between scales to reach the soft, easily pierced skin of their prey, whilst remaining difficult to scratch off.

Owners tend to first notice Snake Mites when they begin forming in large numbers around softer parts of their animals body, such as eye lids or armpits. They may also becomes obvious as the animal soaks in a water bowl, where the Mites will be found floating in the water.

Snake Mites are a problem to Reptile keepers for a number of reasons.

1. They can be vectors of disease. This is especially true if you have multiple animals, whether they are the same species or even cross species collections.

2. Their feeding can weaken an animals immune system and cause stress. this can lead to a lack of appetite, difficulties shedding and more.

3. They spread! Fast! Many keepers find that they can quarantine an animal with mites in a room, only to find the Mites quickly spread amongst the collection. Snake Mites are adept at clinging on to clothing, hair or skin, and if quarantine procedures are anything but clinical, the mites will quickly make their way around the building. the best way to prevent this is to ensure clothing is short sleeved, doesn't drape in the enclosure or near the animal, and full disinfection procedures are undertaken before going anywhere else.

So how can we deal with Mites?

There are a number of methods available to treat Parasitic Mites, and just as many opinions on what is best. This thread is based on my own thoughts and opinions, as well as reasoning behind those thoughts. I hope people see it for what it is, rather than being offended.

And yes, there will be a plug, but I wouldn't bother with this post if I didn't truly believe in the final product.

Home Remedies;

Bath the animal, rub it in olive oil, rub it in vaseline.

These are common suggestions, and it is understandable why they are. They are cheap and easy. But do they work?

The short answer is possibly. The thought process is based around suffocation. A Mite under water, or covered with a thick oil or vaseline can't breathe. They have two options

Detach and run

For those that suffocate, the keeper has achieved an aim. However, there will always be a number that either detach and run, or weren't on the animal in the first place. these Mites are hiding out in the Vivarium, just waiting for the inhabitant to return. Not to mention the hundreds of eggs and nymphs which don't go near the animal.

This method is improved slightly by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the enclosure, but it is not 100% perfect. Mites lay their eggs in hard to reach places. there will always be that one small spot that you miss, which eventually turn back into an infestation.

Chemical Warfare

Another tried and tested method is Chemical warfare. Mite Off, Callingtons, Ardap and more are sprayed on the animal or around the enclosure. They work in many different ways, but ultimately, a harsh insecticide is placed around the enclosure which kills the living Mites off.

this method is more efficient than suffocation, as the spray cover the enclosure more effectively, and many are contact killers, working for up to 6 weeks after application.

However, this does require more than one or two treatments, as eggs aren't always affected by the Chemicals and will hatch in due course.

There are other negatives to this method too;

1. Animals often need to be removed from the enclosure, increasing the risk of Mite spread and/or Stress to the animal.

2. Water should be removed for at least 24 hours - Not ideal for a snake whose instant reaction is to bathe.

3. Many Chemicals are toxic to more sensitive species, such as Hognoses and Garter Snakes, and can kill them within hours. However, some of these make no mention of this in their instructions.

My biggest worry with this method is when the use of products designed for large Mammals are suggested as a method of eradication. Frontline is a popular Flea and Tick treatment for Cats and Dogs, and some Veterinarians have suggested a diluted form in the treatment of Mites.

However, in this age of social media and google experts, this has lead to instant comments of "Use Frontline to get rid of Mites" with no instruction on dilution, quantity, method or even knowing what species it is being advised for. I fear this will lead to a large number of deaths over the coming years if this kind of advise isn't reigned in.

Natural Methods

finally, the method I recommend above all else, Predatory Mites!

Predatory Mites are an amazing group of Mites, across many species, that actively hunt out Mites and other small invertebrates to feast upon.

The two main species on the Market today are

Hypoaspis miles (actually Stratiolaelaps scimitus)
Taurus Mites (a commercialised species)

Both are effective hunters that provide many benefits to Keepers.

They are safe - containing no Chemicals, Fungicides or other harsh products
They are self limiting - Once the Parasitic Mite infestation is gone, they will begin to eat each other until none are left
There is no requirement to remove animals, water or decoration from the enclosure - They will reach every nook and cranny, eating eggs, nymphs and adults

The differences between the two are minimal, and what you use is really a matter of personal choice and availability.

Taurus Mites are believed to be native of Reptile burrows in Africa, and so are believed to be the natural predator of the Snake Mite

Hypoaspis miles are more of a generalistic feeder, and will readily take Snake Mites, whilst also attacking other small invertebrates.

Hypoaspis miles also have a longer shelf life. Taurus mites need to be ordered in to store, whereas Hypoaspis miles are kept in store, specifically at Bioactive Herps

Got a natural enclosure and no parasitic mites? you can treat pre-emptively, as Hypoaspis miles will happily feed on springtails, fungus gnat larvae and even Algae and Pollen, meaning you can have a population ready to go in your setup, incase the pesky Parasites find their way in.

Whatever method you use, it is advised you investigate the method thoroughly, instead of just taking anyones word at face value. Ensure it's the right method for you, one that works with your aims, ethics, species and needs.

Eradicating Parasitic Mites from the community completely is possible, but I doubt it would ever happen. A coordinated campaign to encourage quarantine of ALL animals, from WC imports to new breedings, with a pre-emptive mite treatment could clear them in a matter of weeks.

One can dream I suppose.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, hopefully this has made sense and helped some people in some way.

copyright Tarron Boon and Bioactive Herps, 2016
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