External Parasites in Reptiles

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 25, 2008

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.


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.


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.


Ticks can be removed by grasping them at the point of attachment and slowly pulling their mouth parts out of the reptile's skin.

To eliminate mites, pesticides and medications are used to kill the parasites both on the reptile’s body and within the terrarium. Be very careful when using these chemicals around reptiles because they can cause serious illness or death if pets overdose from the medication, drink from contaminated water, or if ventilation is inadequate. Throw out all substrates and cage furnishings that could be harboring mites. Use newspaper as a floor covering throughout the treatment period and then refurnish the cage with mite-free substrates, branches, rocks, hide boxes, etc.

Bot larvae can be removed from their chamber within the skin by gently enlarging their breathing hole and pulling them out with a pair of tweezers. Maggots must be picked out of or flushed from a reptile’s damaged skin. If the reptile has open wounds, it should be treated with topical antiseptics. Antibiotics in the form of ointments, injections, or oral preparations are also frequently prescribed.

Living and Management

A reptile with external parasites that is treated in a timely manner and is otherwise in good condition can be expected to recover fully. If the parasites have fed heavily and caused significant anemia, debilitation, or transmitted other diseases, the prognosis is not as favorable.


Preventing external parasite infestations is best accomplished by thoroughly examining new pets before they enter the home. It also recommended you quarantine them for three months before they come in contact with other reptiles in the collection. In addition, turtles can be protected from flies by keeping them inside or surrounding outdoor enclosures with screen.

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health