Imagine the feeling of hundreds of tiny bug-like creatures running around your body, biting into your skin to suck your blood. That’s what iguanas go through when they become infested with mites.
All iguanas are prone to getting mites. They can mostly be found in the soft spots of an iguana’s skin including the armpits, between toes, spikes, and the crest. If mites are not removed, the iguana can suffer from various medical conditions and even death. Getting rid of mites involves thorough cleaning and sometimes medication.
After personally dealing with mites on my iguana, Joanna, I’ll be more than happy to share with you what I did to fix the problem.
Can Iguanas Get Infested With Mites?
Mites found in iguanas, also known as Ophionyssus natricis, are tiny, parasitic creatures no larger than the size of a pinhead. However, what they lack in size they compensate with numbers.
Mites reproduce insanely fast (a new generation every week), especially during the hot summer months, and wreak havoc on your iguana such as via the spreading of diseases.
Although commonly referred to as bugs, mites are actually a type of arachnid, like spiders, and they feed off iguanas by sucking their blood via the lizard’s skin, specifically underneath the scales where it’s easier to feed and hide.
Areas on the iguana where you’re more likely to find mites include:
However, I remember finding a hoard of mites underneath the cage’s substrate, where it was nice and humid.
Mites are usually black or bright red, but even when they’re red, their size makes them incredibly difficult to spot.
By the time you see these dreadful creatures, you probably have hundreds more hiding on your lizard and in its habitat.Iguana expert and author James Hatfield
I can personally attest to Hatfield’s claim because that’s exactly what happened to me.
Mites tend to be more prevalent in wild iguanas because their captive counterparts get limited contact with other animals, the primary reason for contracting mites. However, pet iguanas that were bred on farms may have been exposed to mites as they’re usually kept in groups.
All it takes is contact with one mite-infested animal to infest the rest. Therefore, always perform a thorough inspection on an iguana before adopting it.
Why Do Iguanas Get Mites?
Contrary to popular belief, unsanitary living conditions are not a probable cause for mite infestations. The primary reason includes contact with animals, especially reptiles and birds, that have already become a host for these nasty little vampires.
Contact With Infested Animals
Iguanas get infested with mites when coming into contact with an infested animal. However, the infested animal doesn’t have to be an iguana, it can be any type of reptile or bird.
Therefore, wild iguanas are much more susceptible to getting infested. If your pet iguana was mite-free at the time of adoption, there’s a good chance it will never get infested.
You Accidentally Infest Your Iguana
Even if your iguana only has physical contact with you, you nevertheless have to be careful when handling other animals as mites can spread from an infested animal to you (temporarily) and then to your pet iguana.
Taking Your Iguana Outside
Be very careful when you take your iguana outside as mites can be present in your yard. Be extra attentive in places such as:
- South and west-facing areas
- Edges of turf that border concrete or pavement
I remember seeing mites walking across a concrete path surrounded by lawns on both sides in my parent’s backyard and not knowing what they were. It’s very possible these were the same mites that infested my Joanna’s cage by clinging onto me for a ride.
Placing Outdoor Objects Inside The Cage
I know for a fact I’m not the only person who spots random branches or rocks and thinks they’d make a good addition to my iguana’s cage.
Although you can collect rocks and branches from the outdoors for your iguana’s cage, you need to first bake them in the oven to eradicate harmful bacteria and parasites.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, all branches should be baked at a temperature of 200-250 degrees Celsius (392-482 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least thirty minutes before being placed in your iguana’s enclosure.
Iguana Mite Symptoms
Mite symptoms can range from benign to death, depending on how long the problem is neglected. If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, take immediate action to begin killing all the mites on your iguana and its cage.
Appetite Loss And / Or Lethargy
If you’ve ever donated blood and felt tired afterward, then you can relate to a mite-infested iguana.
Appetite loss and lethargy can be a direct result of blood loss, which usually occurs if the infestation is neglected, but it can also be an indirect effect of a disease that was transmitted from the mites to your iguana.
However, appetite loss and lethargy is a very common system for a wide variety of health complications. Therefore, check out this post to learn about all the reasons why your iguana may have loss its appetite.
Additionally, click the following link to view the most common iguana diseases.
Poor Growth In Baby & Juvenile Iguanas
Baby and juvenile iguanas may experience poor growth due to nutrients that were lost to mites.
Remember, mites are a type of parasite. Hence, they feed off their host by “stealing” the nutrients in their body.
Weakened Immune System
Similar to poor growth, loss of nutrients can also lead to a weakened immune system, as the iguana does not have sufficient vitamins and minerals to sustain a healthy system.
Anemia is known as a medical condition that can affect both humans and animals.
When someone is said to be anemic, it simply means they don’t have sufficient red blood cells or hemoglobin to carry oxygen to the body’s tissue.
Since heavy mites infestations can radically reduce the volume of blood in an iguana’s system, the result can very well be anemia.
Mites can wreak havoc on an iguana’s skin.
The most common skin damage includes irritation and inflammation as a result of the numerous animals biting into the iguana.
Additionally, symptoms include black dots or raised bumps, almost like a rash, but with bigger bumps.
In severe cases, the iguana may suffer from lesions, ulcers, or sores, in which case a visit to the vet is necessary.
As you probably assumed, mites can be very bothersome for iguanas, to the point where the lizard feels very stressed. Simply, imagine the feeling of hundreds of tiny insects-like creatures running around your body and literally sucking the life out of you.
By the way, check out this post I wrote about how to identify the root source of an iguana’s stress.
Therefore, an infested iguana may rub excessively against branches, rocks, or the cage itself.
If such is the case, keep an extra eye on your little green friend to ensure it’s not causing further damage to itself.
To relieve the discomfort brought on by mites, iguanas may take longer than usual baths. If I had to guess, the water probably helps reduce the itchiness and irritation on its skin.
It goes without saying that neglecting your iguana’s mite infestation can lead to death, usually from a transmitted disease or anemia.
If you believe your iguana is in very poor health and the mite infestation is severe, take your pet to the herp vet as soon as possible.
How To Get Rid Of Iguana Mites
I can tell you from personal experience that getting rid of mites is no easy feat. You’re going to have to be incredibly consistent and thorough when cleaning the enclosure and bathing the iguana.
However, there is hope. I’ll share some God-sent tips and tricks that I learned from Hatfield’s book, “Green Iguana The Ultimate Owner’s Manual.”
Quarantine The Infested Iguana
Removing my iguana from its enclosure was the first step I took in combatting the infestation.
If you had more than one iguana in the enclosure, you best believe they both have mites.
I know it’s not ideal, but if you have more than one reptile, do your best to keep them in separate enclosures until the infestation has been eradicated.
Constantly Clean The Infested Cage
I cleaned my iguana’s enclosure by removing every object from the cage and scrubbing it with a disinfectant. I used soap and warm water but you can also use Hydrogen Peroxide.
Alcohol is relatively safe to use, just make sure you can no longer smell any trace of it before putting your iguana back in the enclosure. Never use Pine Sol, as it can damage your iguana’s respiratory system.
You have several options regarding branches. You can either toss them and wait until the infestation has been eradicated to buy new ones, bake them in your oven, or wash them.
Also, keep in mind that your goal is not just to kill mites when washing your iguana’s cage, but their eggs as well. Mites which feed off reptiles lay eggs that hatch after three days, and will begin feeding off the host after an additional 2-3 days.
Mites themselves can survive without a host for a hefty 90 days. Hence, if you think you can starve them out, think again. Your only hope is to kill them all.
Replace Substrate Daily Or Use Newspapers
If your budget allows it, replace the substrate every day after cleaning the cage. However, I understand this can be costly, which is why I used newspapers while combatting the infestation.
Just be sure to replace the newspaper every day after cleaning the enclosure.
Remove All Mites From The Iguana
If you don’t take the time every day to remove all the mites on your iguana after cleaning its cage your efforts will be futile.
This is easier said than done, but luckily, Hatfield offers three strategies to help with such a daunting task.
Firstly, he stated that some owners bathed their iguanas in warm water for half an hour.
Secondly, you can put a thin layer of baby oil or vegetable oil on your iguana and leave it on for a couple of hours, then rinse it off. Repeat this process once a week for a month.
Last but not least, a vet told Hatfield that it’s safe to use flea sprays for kittens aged 3-4 weeks. However, never directly spray your iguana. Spray a towel and rub the towel on the iguana’s body, then rinse the iguana with water. Do this once a week for a month.
I both bathed my iguana with warm water and then applied vegetable oil for maximum results. It took a little more than a month to put a stop to these vile creatures, but luckily my iguana was mite free from that point forward.
Unfortunately, some situations can get out of our control. Severe infestations may require vet-prescribed medication to end the infestation.
If you suspect this to be the case, don’t hesitate to go to the vet. Doing so may save your pet’s life.
How To Prevent Your Iguana From Getting Mites
I highly suggest taking all the necessary prevention to reduce the risk of getting mites. Unlike most medical problems which simply require taking medication to resolve, getting rid of mites is a major pain in the neck.
It’s a lot easier to prevent an infestation than it is to end it. Therefore, check out the following suggestions and apply what you can.
Quarantine New Iguanas
This tip is one of the easiest to apply and can save you a hassle.
All new iguanas should be quarantined before making contact with your current lizards. Keep the new guy in a separate enclosure for a few days and inspect him daily to ensure he’s mite free.
Clean & Inspect The Enclosure
Consistently clean your iguana’s enclosure, as doing so will also allow you to inspect it.
I made it a habit to remove all soiled substrate, feces, and shredded skin on a daily basis, and cleaned the cage with a disinfectant at least once a week.
Wash Your Hands
Remember to always wash your hands with soap and water when handling different animals, as you can unknowingly pass mites from one animal another.
A simple habit I formed to care for my iguana included a simple inspection a couple of times per week.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort, and you bond with your lizard as you spend time looking them over for mites or other health complications.
Avoid Contact With Wild Animals
The chances of your iguana getting mites significantly increase when exposed to wild animals. Don’t let them get close to any type of wild animal, especially other reptiles and birds.
Take your scaly pet to the herp vet at least once a year. They will be able to better assist you regarding mite prevention as well as other health concerns.
Can Iguana Mites Feed Off Of Humans
Fortunately for us, iguana mites cannot live on humans, as they feed strictly on reptile blood.
However, iguana mites can nevertheless bite people and temporarily cause irritation or rashes, but the biggest risk involves the transmission of harmful bacteria.
Therefore, if your iguana gets infested with mites, do your best to immediately address the issue. Should you experience skin irritation for an extended period after being bitten by mites, consult your doctor right away.