Tortoises and turtles, like all other animals, are
vulnerable to external parasites, although reptiles have
fewer parasites than mammals. One important note about
dealing with internal and external parasites in tortoises
and turtles is to be sure to avoid the common anti-parasitic
drug ivermectin. Although it is one of the most commonly
used drugs for parasites in animals, it can kill turtles.
Below is some information on the most common external
parasites that could affect your turtles. Internal parasites
are covered in a different article. There are many types of
ticks and hundreds of species of mites that can infest
turtles and tortoises, including the common "chigger" that
also gives humans such trouble.
The most common external parasites found on reptiles are
ticks and mites, both of which can infest lizards, snakes
and turtles. Ticks, mites and other external parasites feed
on the blood of the turtle by biting through its skin. If
the infestation is severe, it may cause anemia from the
blood loss, and even one parasite may transfer one or more
of a number of diseases as well as protozoa that become
internal parasites, living in the turtle's bloodstream or
digestive system and causing disease or even death.
Ticks from Africa and other continents can carry diseases
that may infect other animals than reptiles, and even infect
people. That is how Lyme Disease and a number of other
diseases have been spread. Most ticks come in on new wild-
caught reptiles, so be sure to keep new pets in quarantine
from other animals for at least one month, and care for them
last, washing your hands well afterward.
Tick Infestation Symptoms and Treatments:
Ticks are usually large enough to be fairly easily seen with
the eye, so the best practice is to inspect your
turtles regularly, looking particularly around the vent, in
soft skin folds around the legs, places that ticks normally
attach. Ticks may also cause excess shedding or swelling
around their attachment point, so check for those symptoms
To remove ticks, grab the tick right where the mouth parts
enter the skin. Try to smoothly pull the tick away from the
turtle, being careful not to twist or jerk so that you don't
leave the head attached to the turtle and invite infection.
Place the removed tick into a jar of alcohol to kill it.
Crushing, smashing or flushing a tick may not actually kill
it, they are very hardy, and crushing them with your fingers
can spread disease. Disinfect and treat the bite wounds with
triple antibiotic to prevent infection. Be sure to wash your
hands with soap after you are finished.
Mite Infestation Symptoms and Treatments:
Mites are usually very tiny and hard to recognize. They may
look like small red or black dots on the turtle, or on you
after you have handled the turtle. The first step in
treatment is to clean the vivarium thoroughly, spraying it
with a 1:15 mixture of bleach to water after cleaning.
Remove everything from the pen, throwing away all litter and
soft substrate and replacing with new. You may need to
repeat the pen cleaning process daily for a week to get rid
of all the mites. If the turtle has symptoms of anemia, have
your veterinarian check it before you treat it.
Water Baths The first and most simple method of mite removal
is to soak the tortoise in a bath of lukewarm water for
twenty minutes. This probably won't remove mites on the
tortoise's head, but will kill any on its body. This is a
good time to clean the vivarium as stated above.
Olive Oil can be applied to the tortoise's skin.
It will smother the mites, although it may make a mess.
Commercial Reptile Mite Sprays There is a fairly nontoxic
natural insecticide called Pyrithrin found in the
Chrysanthemum flower. Your pet store may have a treatment
containing Pyrithrin (or a synthetic form of it) that is
sold to use on reptiles. To use this to treat your tortoise
or turtle, cover the animal's eyes carefully and apply the
product to the skin behind and in front of its legs and
around the tail. Also spray anything in its vivarium that
wasn't replaced. Make sure the application has dried and
fumes are gone and change all the water before returning the
turtle to its habitat.
Bot Fly Infestation:
Box turtles are sometimes plagued with the larvae of the
migrating "bot fly." Adult flies lay their eggs on the skin
and mucous membranes of the tortoise. The newly hatched
larvae, (much larger than the common maggot), burrow into
the turtle's skin and form large lumps resembling abscesses.
These grubs may do substantial injury to the turtle, and
some turtles even die as a result.
Common Maggot Infestation:
Sick or wounded outdoor turtles often have common maggots
infest their wounds. Injured or sick box turtles should be
kept indoors or in a screened enclosure until they are well