Ectoparasites, or external parasites, are surprisingly common amongst various species of reptiles.
The main two types are ticks and reptile mites, which both feed on a reptile’s blood and nutrient supply and, in some cases, pass on dangerous diseases to the animal.
But what about crested geckos?
Are they able to get mites, and how do you treat them?
Cases of reptile mites in crested geckos are fairly rare compared to cases in other reptile species, but they will still infect crested geckos if they come in contact with one. Mite infestations are treatable by gently removing the mites from the infected gecko and deep cleaning their enclosure.
To learn more about reptile mites and how they affect crested geckos, keep reading.
We’ll go over everything you need to know when it comes to identifying, treating, and preventing infestations.
What Are Reptile Mites?
Reptile mites are tiny external parasites that feed on the blood of various snakes and lizards, such as crested geckos. In addition to causing anemia, the mites also often spread diseases and other blood parasites. Severe infestations cause rapid weight loss and even death if left untreated.
Just about all species of reptiles are capable of contracting reptile mites, of which there are hundreds of species.
Aside from ticks, reptile mites are one of the most common external parasites affecting crested geckos.
These tiny eight-legged arachnids are hardly larger than the head of a pin and often are black, brown, or red in appearance.
They move slowly across the infected reptile’s body and usually prefer warm, somewhat humid areas such as around the reptile’s mouth, vent, and armpits.
As the mites reproduce and spread across the infected reptile’s body, they will slowly diminish the reptile’s blood supply and, in some cases, transmit other parasites and diseases.
The mites are also quite painful and unpleasant to the infected reptile, who will sometimes itch at their body with their limbs or rub their body against objects in their enclosure in an attempt to remove them.
Can Crested Geckos Get Mites?
Reptile mites thrive in very unsanitary and/or crowded conditions. They are also easily spread through infected batches of bedding or reptile shows where various reptiles are handled in close quarters. Mites spread quickly via their eggs or simply by hopping from one reptile to another.
There are numerous ways reptile mites can spread and infect reptiles, from snakes to lizard species such as crested geckos.
Most notably, they can quickly reproduce and spread in dirty or poorly maintained enclosures or unclean enclosures crowded with too many reptiles.
Humid, dirty conditions are where these mites thrive and spread most effectively, so enclosure cleanliness is crucial to managing and preventing infestations.
Also, handling reptiles without washing one’s hands between each or cross-contaminating reptile enclosures is another way mites spread.
Improper hygiene on the reptile owner’s part is a huge contributor to more severe reptile mite infestations.
Infected batches of bedding/substrate are another means of transmission, though this is far rarer than the above conditions.
Suppose a batch of, for example, sphagnum moss or sand hits shelves without quality control noticing the mites present.
In this case, any reptile owner who uses the substrate will end up mite-infected reptiles.
Finally, another condition in which reptile mites tend to spread is through reptile expos and conventions.
While most reptile breeders are very strict about cleanliness and proper handling, occasionally, a breeder with reptiles infected with mites will end up spreading them to other reptile owners’ snakes and lizards.
Above all, reptile mites reproduce and spread very quickly in unhygienic and overcrowded conditions, so keeping a watchful eye out for these tiny, pesky arachnids is an essential part of proper reptile husbandry.
How Do I Know If My Crested Gecko Has Mites?
If your crested gecko has mites, you will notice tiny black, brown, or red dots barely larger than the head of a pin slowly moving or gathering on your gecko’s body. Mites prefer dark, warm, and/or occasionally moist areas such as the gecko’s mouth, eyes, vent, and armpits.
Crested geckos infected with mites are fairly easy to detect and diagnose just by closely observing the gecko’s body and behaviors.
The most obvious sign, as mentioned above, is the presence of very small, mobile black, brown, or red dots throughout the gecko’s body.
In addition to crawling on the infected reptile’s body, these predatory mites will often be present in the animal’s water bowls and food dishes, on various cage surfaces, or in other dark, moist crevices within the enclosure.
In many cases, the mites will even be present in or around the infected animal’s feces.
If a gecko contracts reptile mites, the mites will almost definitely spread throughout their enclosure as well.
This is why cleaning both the infected gecko’s body and their enclosure is essential to fully eradicating mite infestations, as individual mites are very easy to miss and will quickly repopulate if any are left behind.
Finally, infected geckos will display signs of their infection once the infestation becomes more severe.
Symptoms of crested geckos with reptile mites include:
- Lethargic behavior due to blood loss
- Frequent scratching or rubbing against objects in the enclosure
- Sudden weight loss
- Difficulty shedding
- Loss of appetite or outright refusal of food
Learn more about crested gecko sickness by clicking the link.
Do Mites Spread To Other Geckos?
Reptile mites are extremely contagious and will quickly spread to other nearby reptiles with ease. Infected crested geckos must be quarantined far from any other reptiles in your home. Stringent hand-washing and enclosure cleaning are essential to preventing the further spread of reptile mites.
One of the biggest reasons reptile mites are such a pain to treat is that they reproduce and spread so quickly.
In worst cases, entire populations of reptiles will be infected, such as among reptile breeders or enthusiasts with many different reptile species all housed in one area of their home.
Mites spread via contact and through the eggs; they lay on the reptile’s skin and throughout their enclosure.
For example, if you touch or handle an infected gecko, place it back in its enclosure, and then handle another uninfected reptile, the mites will “hitch a ride” on your hands/body before hopping onto and infecting the other reptile and spreading to its enclosure as well.
In rarer cases, infected bedding will spread mites to any reptiles whose enclosures contain the tainted bedding.
Additionally, unhygienic conditions create the perfect breeding grounds for reptile mites. Because reptile mites strongly prefer dark, dirty, moist areas, dirty enclosures will only promote further infestation and reinfection.
Keeping enclosures clean and avoiding cross-contamination via handling reptiles is a key way of combating and reducing mite infestations.
How Do I Get Rid Of Mites On My Crested Gecko?
The most effective way to remove mites from an infected crested gecko is to bathe it in a water-diluted Betadine solution and use warm, moistened cotton swabs to gently remove the mites around the gecko’s eyes, mouth, vent, and other sensitive areas.
Once you have determined the presence of mites on your crested gecko, you’ll need to move to start removing them from the gecko itself quickly.
We’ll get to disinfecting the enclosure soon, but for now, focus on making your crestie comfortable and removing as many mites from their body as possible.
There are various methods of treating reptile mites, from removing them with cotton swabs and hot water alone to using commercial mite sprays such as Natural Chemistry’s Reptile Mite Spray.
Some reptile owners tout these commercial mite treatments as being highly effective.
However, most reptile experts and reptile veterinarians suggest an inexpensive Betadine solution is the most reliable method to use.
To remove mites from your crested gecko, first, prepare a bath for them with roughly half warm water and half Betadine.
Soak the gecko in the solution and use cotton swabs to spot treat any groups of mites around the lizard’s eyes, mouth, vent, and armpits.
When placed in a bath, it is fairly common for reptiles to defecate, as the warm water stimulates their bowels.
If your gecko does this, just remove them from the bath, draw up a clean one, and place them back in the water/Betadine solution.
Be very careful not to get the solution inside the gecko’s mouth or eyes; use cotton swabs soaked in warm water alone for very sensitive areas.
You should start to see the mites frantically moving across your gecko’s body in an attempt to escape the solution.
This is a good sign the solution is working!
How Do I Get Rid Of Mites In My Crested Gecko’s Enclosure?
To eradicate a reptile mite infestation, you’ll need to disinfect the gecko’s enclosure, decor, and food/water dishes with hot, soapy water. Wooden enclosures and decor will need to be baked in the oven, while objects like rocks should be cleaned with boiling water.
After you’ve bathed your gecko in the Betadine as mentioned above solution, your next step will be to immediately quarantine them in a temporary enclosure.
At the same time, you thoroughly disinfect the contaminated enclosure.
Your gecko’s temporary quarantine enclosure doesn’t need to be elaborate, as they’ll only be housed in it for at most a day or two while you clean their main habitat.
Just ensure the quarantine enclosure has hides, a decent temperature gradient, and proper humidity levels in the meantime.
Once your gecko is secured in its temporary enclosure, remove all decor, objects, and substrate from the enclosure.
Carefully dispose of all of the substrates in the enclosure, as it is almost definitely infected with mites.
Keep the contaminated substrate and tank objects far away from any other reptiles or their enclosures in your home, and thoroughly wash your hands in between handling other reptiles.
Regardless of the type of substrate you’ve used, dispose of it and never under any circumstances reuse it.
Prepare a solution of hot, very soapy water first.
Plain dish soap like Dawn is fine here.
While the soap itself won’t kill the mites on contact, the soapy water will drown them fairly quickly and get rid of any dirt, debris, or other harmful organisms and diseases spread by the mites.
Clean every single surface and object in the enclosure with hot, soapy water, aside from anything wooden or made of stone.
Wooden objects or enclosures will need to be baked in the oven at around 200° degrees Fahrenheit (93° C) for a couple of hours, while rocks and stone objects should be dunked in boiling water.
Thoroughly rinse the enclosure with warm water after you’re done cleaning it with soapy water.
You don’t want to leave any soap behind.
From here, you have the option of either allowing everything to dry out or moving on to a bleach and water solution to disinfect the glass within the enclosure (if applicable) for good measure.
The solution should be roughly ½ a cup of bleach for every gallon of water.
Scrub the surfaces in the enclosure with the solution and allow it to sit for 15 minutes or so before thoroughly rinsing it again with warm water.
Finally, let everything dry out for at least a full day, ideally around 48 hours, before replacing the objects and filling the tank with a fresh, clean substrate.
Once you’re sure the mites on your gecko’s body have been eliminated, you’ll be able to place them back in the enclosure, too.
If you want even more details, check out our guide on how to clean a crested gecko tank.
Preventing Reptile Mites In Crested Geckos
The key to preventing reptile mites is proper hygiene and preventing cross-contamination. Always keep enclosures clean; spot clean daily and deep clean monthly. Additionally, wash your hands thoroughly in between handling different reptiles to prevent mites and diseases from spreading.
After you’ve fully eliminated your crested gecko’s enclosure and body of reptile mites, your goal should be to prevent them from becoming reinfected.
Your gecko’s enclosure should be spot cleaned every day.
Remove uneaten food and insects daily and thoroughly clean and disinfect any spots where your gecko has defecated.
In addition to regular spot cleans, the crested gecko cage should be thoroughly deep cleaned every two to four weeks with disinfectants safe for reptiles (again, soapy water is a great choice).
Proper enclosure maintenance is essential to preventing subsequent chances of infestation.
Always wash your hands thoroughly with hot water before and after handling your gecko or anything in its enclosure.
Can Reptile Mites Live On Humans?
Reptile mites rarely infect humans, as most mites strongly prefer a certain type of animal or group of species (in this case, reptiles). In rare cases, they will attempt to feed on humans but will seldom complete their life cycle or reproduce and will quickly die off.
Thankfully, you don’t have much to worry about when it comes to mites infecting you or other people in your home.
Specific types of mites prefer feeding on certain species, and reptile mites are only interested in reptiles.
Very desperate mites will occasionally attempt feeding on humans or alternative hosts.
Still, they won’t complete their life cycle and will quickly die without an appropriate host such as a lizard or snake.
If you see the occasional lizard mite on your body or clothing, remove them, wash your hands or wherever you noticed the mites thoroughly with hot, clean water and soap, and promptly wash any clothing which came in contact with the mites.