Aug 2011

Q: Snake with mites

Q: Hello, over the past week one of my Jungle Carpets has been submerged constantly in her water bowl. Last night I noticed black dots in the water and upon a closer look its definately mites. I haven't noticed any of my other's acting differently so I believe that she's the only one that has them. I know there are many different products on the market but I was wondering which I should purchase. If anyone has any preferences  on certain productsI'd like your opinion please. I'm looking for a treatment for the actual snake and a treatment to treat the cage. I will treat all my snakes and cages as a precauction. Thanks in advance!

A: You're undoubtedly going to get a variety of replies with treatments ranging in efficacy, safety and expense.  There's no single "right way" to tackle this, although there are a handful of ways to do it wrong.  My recommendation -- first thing -- is to submerge Pandora's actual cage in shallow water (assuming you can find something it will fit in).  This is a control measure.  Mites on a snake are an annoying nuisance, but mites on all your snakes is infernally frustrating and much more difficult to manage.  Although the sheer number of them seen can be intimidating, they can actually only spread by crawling from one cage to the next or by you accidentally carrying them from one cage to the next.  They cannot jump, hop, fly, etc and they most certainly cannot swim.  This is one reason snakes will seek refuge in water; it's the one place they can go where the mites will detach and drown pretty quickly.  So once again, if you can set Pandora's cage in a tub of water and practice strict hygiene when working in her cage (i.e. feeding or cleaning her last, washing your hands/body, changing clothes, etc.) there's a good chance you can keep them contained.

With regard to actual treatment, I've had great success with vapona (dichlorvos) available in the Hot Shot "No-pest strips" you can purchase from Lowes or Home Depot, and the chemical -- used properly -- is well-tolerated by pythons as a group.  These chemically impregnated strips are designed to release pesticide into the air and keep entire rooms free of bugs.  The stuff is actually pretty toxic and it's very water soluble, so you only want to use this as long as it takes to clear the infestation.  While wearing rubber gloves, open the No-pest strip box and cut off a small chunk of the yellow strip and place it in a small ramekin or deli cup with holes punched in it.  Placing it in a hole punched ramekin ensures that the pesticide can dissipate into the air without the snake coming into direct contact with it.   REMOVE THE SNAKE'S WATER BOWL DURING TREATMENT.  Pesticide from the air will settle and dissolve in the water bowl and, unfortunately, dichlorvos toxicity from sloppy treatment is all too commonly seen in veterinary practice.  I leave the ramekin in the cage for 24 hours before removing it, replacing the water bowl, and repeating again a few days later.  It's best, obviously, if all cage furniture is removed and bleached (or better: discarded) at this time.  It rarely takes more than a few treatments in this way before the mites are killed and your husbandry can return to normal.  As a disclaimer though, I typically keep the snake on white paper towels and treat again a week or two out to ensure anything not killed at the egg stage will be destroyed as it’s emerging.
Another unusual but important word of caution is that dichlorvos is extremely toxic to invertebrates (duh).  If you keep tarantulas, centipedes, or anything else without a backbone you'd be wise to move them out of the house until some time after the mites are under control and you've concluded treatments.
Good luck! - BJW

Additional Info: The Life History of Snake Mites