Snake mites are tiny spider-like organisms that reside on and between the scales of snakes and tend to also congregate around the eyes. They are relatively easy to see with the unaided eye but a magnifying lens will aid in their identification. Mites are the most common and the most dangerous of the external parasites of captive snakes. These mites feed on the blood of their host, causing anemia (often severe with heavy infestations). Furthermore, this habit of blood-feeding also facilitates the transmission of viruses, at least one very serious disease-causing bacterium, and one blood parasite.
The snake mite completes its life cycle on its host. The females, however, do lay their eggs (up to 80 eggs) off the snake within the immediate environment. This is one of the reasons why particular horizontal substrates (such as corn-cob material, pebbles, etc.) are not recommended. These substrates provide too many hiding place for the mites and their eggs.
Snakes that are most likely to be seriously compromised by this external parasite are those that have been recently imported and those that are house under crowded, unhygienic conditions. Heavily parasitized snakes are also likely to be adversely affected when they are suffering from malnutrition and/or other disease conditions at the same time.
Veterinarians must be consulted when the various circumstances and conditions described in the above paragraph face the owner. These snakes must be carefully examined and thoroughly evaluated so that underlying diseases and problems with husbandry can be identified and corrected. Furthermore, the recommended treatment protocols can often be injurious, especially to snakes suffering from debility and/or disease. The veterinarian will need to conduct a thorough physical examination and may recommend a blood analysis in order to fully evaluate the patient, the advisability of treatment, and the least harmful method of treatment for mites to be used.
During treatment, it is imperative that any particulate substrate (pea gravel, crushed corn-cob, wood shavings, etc.) within the enclosure be replaced by paper or towels. Furthermore, all water containers should be removed. The enclosure itself should be thoroughly cleaned and fumigated with a 10% to 15% solution of formalin and hot water. After a thorough rinsing, the enclosure should be allowed to completely dry before it is re-inhabited.
Ticks resemble oversized mites and occupy many of the same size on the skin and scales of the snakes occupied by mites. Ticks are often found just inside the mouth, nostrils, or vent as well. Even under conditions of captivity, ticks rarely reach the burdensome numbers obtained by mites. Recently imported snakes are usually the most heavily parasitized.
Like mites, ticks feed on the blood of the host snake and are capable of causing severe, life-threatening anemia. Furthermore, their blood-feeding habit enables them to transmit certain blood-borne diseases to snakes.
Manual removal of each individual tick is the most expedient treatment for tick infestations. Owners must exercise great care in performing this task. Simply pulling on the tick will inevitably leave the mouthparts of the tick embedded in the skin of the snake. A small amount of alcohol applied to the exposed parts of the tick will cause it to relax and will facilitate its removal. Furthermore, the treatment methods recommended for mites are also effective. Owners are encouraged to enlist the services of an experienced veterinarian for a thorough pre-treatment evaluation of the snake.