Corn snake mitesChemical-free control of mites

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As a vivarium keeper, it pays to be observant. It’s not just a case of checking that your pets are eating well and appear active; there can be hidden dangers lurking in the enclosure, threatening their health.

Certain mites are common parasites of snakes especially, and seem to be afflicting lizards more frequently as well these days – and even invertebrates such as tarantulas can be at risk from them.

Spotting their presence

Snake mite showing its size to the human eyeThese parasites are tiny, and can be quite easily overlooked at first. The presence of snake mites (Ophionyssus natricis) is often betrayed by the appearance of what look like tiny black specks in the water container, which are drowned mites, as shown left, in this APPI photograph.

Careful examination of the snake can then reveal these parasites clustered around the scales. Using a hand lens or magnifying glass should serve to make it easier to confirm the presence of the mites here, if there is any doubt.

Mite treatmentBear in mind, however, that these mites are also free-living, and they will seek out nooks and crevices around the enclosure too. In fact, buying a secondhand vivarium could be dangerous for this reason, especially as the mites can live for some time without feeding. People often just treat their pets without realising the enclosure represents a danger as well. 

Health risks

Vet examining a snakeA mite infestation can be harmful for a number of reasons - not least the fact that these parasites will multiply rapidly if unchecked, and can then cause serious irritation to the vivarium occupants. They bite, and this in turn may trigger skin infections, which can become more generalised, spreading through the body and triggering a life-threatening bacterial illness.

Furthermore, by feeding on their hosts’ blood, so these mites can also spread even smaller but no less deadly parasites through the blood, as well as viruses. In addition, severe infestations are likely to cause anaemia, especially in young animals, which can be fatal and is always debilitating. In the case of tarantulas and scorpions, parasitic mites belonging to the genus Pimeliaphilus have evolved to suck their haemolymph, which is the invertebrate equivalent of blood.

In the past, the only way to treat these mites was to use chemicals for this purpose, which could represent a further threat to the health of the animal itself, and even to their keeper. Yet in nature, there are small invertebrates that prey on parasitic mites. By including these in the quarters of an animal that is suffering from mites therefore represents an effective means of controlling these parasites by biological means.

Chemical-free control

Taurrus catches a snake miteThis option of chemical-free control is now available thanks to the French-based company called APPI.  They have devised TAURRUS®, which is a living product designed to eliminate harmful mites from the vivarium environment.

It contains natural predators against snake mites, as well those found on lizards and invertebrates such as tarantulas and scorpions. TAURRUS® is even suitable to use to control mites in fruit fly (Drosophilia) cultures if required.

Using TAURRUS®

The product itself is very simple to use, and has no recognised harmful side-effects. It is simply a matter of tipping the container into the snake's quarters, and letting the microscopic mite predators get to work. They will hunt down the darker-coloured parasitic mites anywhere in the enclosure, as well as those present on the vivarium occupants. (Photo above courtesy APPI).

The method of operation is, however, quite different from that of chemical methods of control. Initially, you should notice that the mite population stops increasing, and then, as the predators start reproducing and gain the upper hand, so it will tumble. In severe cases though, you may need to add more than one pot of TAURRUS® to achieve the best effect.

Introducing TAURRUS® to a vivarium ensures that as long as the parasites are present, this remedy will continue working to eliminate them. When there are no parasites, so the predatory species simply die out, and pose no hazard to the vivarium occupants at any stage.

Find out more

See the APPI website for more information, with the UK distributors for APPI here in the UK being Monkfield Nutrition Ltd, Church Farm Barn, Wendy, Royston, Hertfordshire, SG8 0HJ. Tel: 01223 208261. Email: sales@monkfieldnutrition.co.uk