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External Parasites in Reptiles

Ticks, Mites, and Fly Larvae

External parasites not only annoy pet reptiles, but they can also transmit disease and be very debilitating, even causing death in extreme cases. Preventing and/or dealing with their introduction and spread through a reptile collection is a very important aspect of keeping reptiles healthy and happy.

Symptoms and Types

Mite infestations cause a reptile’s skin to appear rough and often disrupt the normal skin shedding process. Affected animals will frequently soak in their water bowls to try to rid themselves of the pests and rub against surfaces in their terrariums to ease their discomfort.

Ticks are relatively large parasites that are easily seen with the naked eye, attaching themselves to the reptile’s skin using their mouth parts.

Turtles that are housed outdoors in fly-infested areas can develop one or more skin lumps that house the larvae of bot flies. Maggot infestations are also possible and can be very debilitating for reptiles, leading to lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite, and death if left untreated.

Causes

External parasites are primarily a problem for wild-caught reptiles or in reptile collections where new additions are not adequately examined, treated, or quarantined. Bot flies can lay their eggs in a small wound that they create in the reptile's skin. Other flies can then take advantage of preexisting wounds and lay their eggs, resulting in a maggot infestation.

Diagnosis

Mites are about a millimeter in length and are difficult to see in small numbers. They tend to congregate in skin folds and around the eyes. Gently rubbing the surface of a reptile’s skin while it is held over a white piece of paper can dislodge the tiny brown or black parasites, making them visible when they fall onto the paper.

If a skin mass is caused by a bot fly, a small breathing hole for the larva will be present. Maggots, meanwhile, are light gray or white worm-like larvae that are found in and around wounds on the surface of the body.

 
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