The most common external parasites that infest reptiles are
mites and ticks. There are many species of mites and ticks
that infest Lizards, turtles and snakes. In fact, there are
reportedly nearly three hundred species of mites and seven
genera of ticks that infest lizards, turtles and snakes.
What is the risk to your pet reptile if it has external
Both ticks and mites drink the blood of reptiles, so if
there are many parasites, the animal may become anemic from
the blood loss. Ticks also are well known for carrying many
diseases, protozoa that can infest the animal's blood
stream, as well as other internal parasites. There have even
been known cases of ticks causing suffocation in some
lizards by filling up their respiratory passages. Also,
since pet reptiles may be imported from other countries,
parasites that aren't dealt with may find their way into
native wild populations and cause grave environmental
What should you watch for to stop tick infestations?
Adult ticks are fairly easy to see with the eye,
especially if they have fed and are full of blood, you also
may see shedding of skin around the area where the tick has
attached. To catch ticks before they have engorged, you'll
need to do regular careful inspections of your reptile,
especially in areas that ticks prefer, such as in the
nostrils or under the scales of snakes, around the vent or
in the folds of the legs in turtles, or around the vent and
in the nostrils of lizards.
What about mites?
Mites are much smaller than ticks and not usually visible to
the eye. The first symptom of a mite infestation is
usually a dull look to the animal's skin because the scales
or skin is rough and damaged from the mite bites. There may
be small red spots on the reptile's skin, especially around
the eyes and under scales. Some lizards, especially iguanas,
may have skin ulcers. As the problem persists, the animal
may eat less or even stop eating, rub itself on items in the
cage, and/or soak in its water dish for long periods. You
may be able to see the mites as small dark specks in the
water after the reptile has soaked a bit, or even on your
own hands if you handle your pet.
The medical term for an external parasite infestation is
acariasis. Below are some home treatments.
To remove ticks, using small tweezers grab the tick by the
head or mouth parts right at skin level. (Don't grab the
tick by the body as you may crush it, either allowing
infected body fluids to escape onto your pet's damaged skin,
or separate the body from the head leaving the head or mouth
parts in the animal's skin to cause infection later.) Pull
steadily and firmly without twisting, and the tick will
usually let go. Immediately put the tick into a jar of
alcohol to kill it. Crushing allows bacteria to escape the
tick's body, and flushing it down the toilet will probably
simply send it on alive to breed and infest the wild reptile
Be sure to wash your hands afterward.
Note: If you need to use a mite or tick killer on your
reptile pets because of a heavy infestation or because the
pests are in hard to treat areas such as the nostrils, NEVER
use the insecticide ivermectin on your turtles or tortoises,
it will kill them.
There are many remedies suggested for removing mites from
reptiles, but many can be dangerous to your pet or even
other members of your household if not used correctly. Here
are a few home remedies to try. If they don't seem to
complete the job and you are not previously experienced with
treating reptiles with insecticides, please take your pet to
a reptile veterinarian and at least get his or her advice
first rather than risking its life by applying pesticides or
insecticides to it yourself, even if you bought them at a
The simplest and hence the first thing to try is a water
bath. Soak your snake, lizard or turtle in lukewarm water
for at least twenty minutes and you will drown the mites on
the animal's body, but you may not get all the mites on its
heads, since the head will not be constantly immersed.
To complete the treatment after the water bath, cover the
animal's head with olive oil, to suffocate the mites. Or, if
you choose, you can cover the entire reptile with olive oil
and skip the water bath. But be careful, a reptile of any
type, covered with oil, is a slippery customer. Be sure to
keep the animal isolated and where it can't fall or be
dropped for at least the twenty minutes or so until you are
ready to wipe most of the oil off.