“He who has no mites, has no snakes”, an experienced herper once said. Unfortunately, we would have to agree.

It occurs from time to time that our animals are plagued by these buggers. The numerous help-seeking requests in the reptile forums online show how much trouble many keepers of boas have in dealing with this problem.

Since following the advice given there would often times hurt the snakes more than the mites, it is time to address this topic thoroughly. The lack of information is not very surprising, as the topic “snake mites” has so far been treated rather sparingly in the literature.

Since these parasites pose a problem with which pretty much every keeper of boas will have to deal with sooner or later, we want to discuss this topic thoroughly.

Facts about snake mites

The snake mite (Ophionyssus natricis) occurs throughout the world. So far, approximately 250 types of mites have been identified as reptile parasites. In snakes, O. natricis is by far the most common.

Under favorable conditions, these animals reach sexual maturity in just 3 weeks. Only a few days pass between the point in time at which the eggs are laid and at which the eggs are hatching. Life expectancy is about one year.

Amazingly, the larval form of mites, also referred to as nymphs, can remain in a kind of inactive state for up to 3 years in unsuitable conditions.

After each blood meal (up to 7 times), O. natricis lays 200 to 400 eggs. This quickly turns the enclosure into an exercise field of the mite army, and the snake becomes their source of nutrition. The transmission to humans is possible, and may cause purulent blisters on the skin.

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Most of the time, these parasites reach the snake enclosures via prey animals, substrate, or plants. In our experience, an especially high-risk of obtaining mites is when acquiring new snakes. This is also one of the reasons why newly acquired animals should be placed in quarantine before integrating them into an established collection.

Mites embed themselves under the scales of the snake. They live off of the reptiles, which in a severe case can lead to anemia (lack of blood). A sign for this is a white mucous membrane (normal color: pink). Furthermore, the transmission of dangerous infectious diseases among snakes is associated with mites, since they do change hosts.

Snake mite (Ophionyssus natricis) photo: Kalle Berglof, Sweden