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Turtles Mites – How To Identify And Treat Them

You wouldn’t think that turtles—especially aquatic turtles—could get external parasites such as mites. The fact is that all turtles and tortoises are susceptible to mites, though it’s very rare that aquatic species contract mites.

Identifying and treating mites isn’t very difficult, but it can be stressful and very time-consuming. As soon as you notice mites on your turtle you should begin taking steps to get rid of them, and here we will let you know exactly how to do that.

What Are Mites?

Three blood-filled mites sitting on a leaf
Three blood-filled mites sitting on a leaf.

Mites are tiny, parasitic bugs related to spiders and ticks.

Mites include chiggers, scabies mites, bird and rodent mites, and the aptly named itch mites. They all climb on the host’s skin and suck their blood.

The reptile mite (Ophionyssus natricis) is the scientific name for the type of mite that will most likely be found on your pet turtle.

They can be very difficult to spot with the naked eye unless you notice an infestation of them. On your turtle, you may notice tiny red or black specks that look similar to tiny pepper flakes.

Mites like to congregate on tender areas such as eyelids, around the nostrils, and other softer skin folds. You might even see these small flecks floating on the surface of the tank’s water.

Mites can be dangerous to your pets because they suck blood from them. Only a few won’t do much more than irritate your turtle, but they swiftly multiply.

When mites grow to large numbers they can cause lethargy and anemia in your turtle. Left untreated, mites can eventually cause the death of your pet by causing severe anemia.

How Did My Turtle Get Mites? 

Two blood-filled mites sitting on a leaf
Two blood-filled mites sitting on a leaf

Unfortunately, mites on turtles and reptiles, in general, are pretty common and they are easily spread. Mites can come from new, unquarantined turtles, or even be spread by human contact.

If you handle an infected turtle or other reptiles, the mites can hitch a ride on you and then become transferred to your pet.

Another way mites show up is from accessories, or they may get them from the outdoors. Bedding or other accessories that haven’t been cleaned properly could carry mites.

We want the best for our pets and because reptiles such as turtles need a lot of sunlight to be healthy, we take them outside. Here, they can pick up mites and other parasites. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them out ever again, we just need to be careful when we bring them back in.

Assuming you’re reading this to find out how to treat your turtle, let’s get into the supplies you will need to get rid of these disgusting blood-suckers.

What Supplies Do I Need To Get Rid Of Mites?

Cotton buds after cleaning mites
Cotton buds after cleaning mites.

Whether you only have a few mites on your turtle, or you are experiencing a full-blown infestation, the steps will be the same. Even one mite can quickly multiply until you have a sick turtle on your hands that’s covered in these repulsive parasites.

The following supplies are needed to get rid of mites:

  • Rubber gloves, preferably gloves that go past your wrists.
  • A disinfectant cleaner that won’t harm your turtle. You can purchase some specialized cleaner or use a solution of bleach and water, or vinegar.
  • Olive oil
  • Small, soft bristled brush. Preferably a cheap, disposable toothbrush
  • New, clean substrate
  • Tightly sealing trash bags
  • A bucket or separate container to bathe your turtle in
  • Miticide. You can purchase this OTC or get help from your veterinarian.
  • Reptile ointment. Links to these products will be provided below.

If your turtle is lethargic, sickly, weak, or otherwise excessively covered in mites, take it to the vet for treatment. They can give you proper medications that will take care of the mites and help restore your turtle’s health.

How To Treat Mites On Your Turtle

As we talk about mite treatment, we include all types of turtles here. Whether you have an aquatic musk turtle, a terrestrial box turtle, or a tortoise such as a Mediterranean Spur-thighed tortoise, these instructions apply to them all.

Step 1. 

When you first notice mites, wash your hands very well if you have handled your turtle or anything in the tank. Some reptile mites will feed on humans as well, so the first thing to do would be to make sure you don’t have any on you.

Step 2.

Get your gloves on, get your turtle bathing container, and give your turtle a bath. Use warm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush.

You don’t want to use a sink or your tub to bathe your turtle. The mites could end up hiding away from the water and then infect you or someone else in your household. Mites can go weeks without a blood meal, so they are masters at waiting.

Use the toothbrush to brush over every surface of the shell and skin that you can. This helps to knock these parasites lose.

After you’re finished with the bath, sanitize the container you washed your turtle in and use the olive oil to moisturize your turtle. Olive oil is safe to use on turtles and it will smother any remaining mites.

Let the oil sit on your turtle while you work on sanitizing the enclosure.

Step 3.

Turn off any lamps, heaters, filters, or other electrical devices and clean them thoroughly. Make sure you let the heaters cool off to room temperature before you clean them.

Open up the filter and clean the inside and outside of it. Replace any disposable filters and clean and soak reusable filters.

Step 4.

Drain out any water and remove any substrate and dispose of it in a tightly sealed bag. Dispose of the infected substrate in an outside trash bin to reduce the possibility of re-infestation.

Get rid of any plants. It’s best to replace them because mites can hide in them and come out once the coast is clear.

Dispose of anything that can’t be cleaned. Anything that can be cleaned should be soaked and scrubbed with a solution of bleach and water.

Use a mixture of about 9 parts of water to 1 part of bleach. Once all the accessories are sufficiently scrubbed and soaked, rinse them off with clean water, and let them dry in the sun to help finish off the mites.

You can also use white distilled vinegar if you don’t like the idea or smell of bleach. They both work to kill mites. Use a 1-to-1 ratio of vinegar and water to clean the accessories.

With everything out of the tank, clean all the tank surfaces with your bleach or vinegar solution. Don’t mix bleach and vinegar as they will react and create a toxic gas. Use one or the other.

Once the tank is cleaned, rinse it out very well with clean water and go to the next step.

Step 5.

Cleaning the tank and everything inside it will probably have taken some time. That’s good because you want to be as thorough as you can be.

You want to leave the olive oil on your turtle for an hour or two, that’s why I had you marinade him or her and then go clean the tank. Once enough time has elapsed, go ahead and give your turtle another bath to get rid of any excess olive oil.

If you want to you can try an over-the-counter miticide such as Reptile Lizard Spray Mite Parasite Relief. Be sure to follow the instructions and keep a close eye on your turtle in case it has an allergic reaction.

Mites can be irritating and in large numbers, they can cause sores on your turtle’s sensitive skin. After you have treated the mites and bathed your turtle to help get rid of them, you may want to add an antibacterial ointment.

If you take your turtle to the vet, they can give you a good antibacterial ointment. If you are trying to treat the mites yourself, you should think about getting this Vetericyn Plus Reptile Wound and Skin Care.

It’s a non-irritating spray antibacterial for reptiles. It will help them heal the wounds the awful mites may have caused and get rid of any germs that could cause secondary infections.

Step 6.

Make sure you have a new, unopened package of substrate and start putting your tank back together. It’s okay to leave the accessories out for a day. 

You may even want to wait a week before adding substrate and leave the tank nearly empty. If you didn’t get all the mites, they can come back and start a new infestation.

Be sure to closely inspect your turtle every few days to make sure they don’t return. I hate to say it, but if they come back, you’ll have to follow all these steps over again.

How Do I Prevent Mites?

Turtle being examined by a vet
Turtle being examined by a vet.

Wash Your Hands

The single most effective way to prevent mites is to wash your hands. Any time you touch or handle any reptile, you should be washing your hands because they carry salmonella and you don’t want to pass that on to yourself or any other family member.

Washing your hands prevents the cross-contamination of mites. When you go to a reptile store or a show, every time you touch an animal, be sure to wash your hands or sanitize after you’re finished.

Quarantine New Animals

Before introducing new animals into your current enclosures, be sure to quarantine them properly and for the correct amount of time. Some places recommend 30 days, while others recommend 60 or 90 days.

Some mites can cycle in less than 20 days, and a true quarantine time should be twice the cycle time. In that case, I would say to quarantine your pets for a minimum of 40 days.

You may even want to go longer just to err on the side of safety. If you can go a full two or three months quarantining your new animals, then go ahead.

Not only does this give enough time to see if any mites will show up, but it can also make sure there are no other issues that will show up later.

Inspect New Animals

You should always inspect a potential new animal to make sure it looks and feels healthy. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to check for mites unless you carry around a magnifying glass in your pocket.

Mites are very tiny, but if you rub a finger along the animal and then closely inspect your finger, you might be able to see if any mites come off. You’ll look for tiny dark specks the size of sand or dust.

If you see any type of debris like this on your hands after touching the reptile, wash your hands immediately with soap and as hot water as you can stand.

If anything about the animal gives you concern, especially if you see mites, then don’t bring the animal home until it has been properly treated.

Take New Animals In For A Checkup

A good habit to get into is to take new animals to your vet for a checkup before taking them home. The veterinarian can check for mites, internal parasites, and anything else that may be of concern.

Plus your vet can start to get to know your new animal.

Regular Tank Cleaning

You should be doing a light cleaning and tidying up of your turtle tank daily. Remove spent food and feces. Be sure to clean food and water dishes daily too.

If you have a box turtle or tortoise then a deep clean should be administered once a month or every other month. This includes replacing the substrate and cleaning all the accessories. Aquatic turtles need a deep cleaning more often.

Keeping your turtle’s enclosure clean goes a long way to keeping it healthy and free of mites and other illnesses.

Conclusion

All turtles can get parasitic mites. Left untreated these blood-sucking pests can severely harm your precious pet so quick and detailed action is required to get rid of them.

If you’re having trouble getting rid of mites, or your turtle is lethargic or sickly, you’ll need to get help from your vet.

If you are tackling this pest yourself, you have to treat the turtle and everything it has been in contact with. You’ll have to bathe the turtle and sanitize the enclosure and everything that was inside it.

It may take some time, and you may have to repeat steps more than once, but with perseverance, you can overcome this disgusting parasite.

Have comments, experiences, or was there something you’ve tried that worked to get rid of mites? Drop a comment below and share your knowledge with other turtle owners.

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