How to Treat a Mite Infestation in Box Turtles

 

Adult Trombicula mite. Larval stages of this mite will feed on both humans and box turtles, as well as other hosts.

A Trombicula mite, whose larval stage will feed on many different hosts, including humans and box turtles.
Trombicula-mite-adult” by Alan R Walker – Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

 

A mite infestation is more common in indoor enclosures than outdoors, especially if you also keep other reptiles.

A few mites are nothing to worry about, and you probably won’t even notice them. Too many, though, can be dangerous for your box turtle.

You’ll want to know how to recognize and treat mites on your boxie just in case.

Signs of Mite Infestation

Mites are tiny and may look like specks of dirt that move. When the infestation is bad, you’ll see a lot of them clustered on the turtle’s skin, especially around the eyes and nose. You may also notice them floating in the water after bathing your turtle … or on your hands after handling him—Yuck!

If your box turtle seems lethargic, you should also check for mites. Since mites feed on blood, having a lot of them can make your turtle anemic. Hopefully you would notice the pests before that happens.

Getting Rid of Mites on Your Box Turtle

Start by washing your turtle. Mites drown in water, so a bath is a good first step to reducing the mite population. Scrub him gently, too. A soft toothbrush works well for this. The bath most likely won’t get rid of all the mites.

You have a few options for additional treatment:

  • Antibiotic ointment: An ophthalmic preparation is especially good for around the eyes.
  • Oil: Oils will smother the mites. Olive oil is generally safe to use on your box turtle. Cover him with it completely. Give it some time to work (about an hour or so), then give him another bath to rinse as much off as possible.
  • Miticide: These are chemicals that kill mites. Be very careful if you choose to use one, because some are toxic to turtles.
    • Pyrethroids: These are synthetic versions of pyrethrins, a natural insecticide from chrysanthemums. They are safe to use on turtles. You can apply a small amount at each leg opening. Make sure you don’t get it in their eyes. Two examples of Pyrethroids are permethrin and permectrin. Provent-a-Mite is a permethrin-based product for use in reptiles.
    • Organophosphates: Although these can be used on adult turtles as long as you use it correctly, they are potentially toxic and should be used with care. They can kill immature turtles and even adult turtles, when used wrong.
    • Ivermectin is very toxic for turtles. Do not use it.

Box turtle eating strawberry

As long as your box turtle is otherwise healthy, you should be able to treat a mite infestation at home. If your turtle seems lethargic or sick, bring it to your herp vet before using any miticides on it.

And, of course, if you’re ever unsure about the best thing to do, take the safe route and talk to your vet.

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2 thoughts on “How to Treat a Mite Infestation in Box Turtles

  1. julie

    thanks for the info on red mites. at the gkids elementary school a box turtle lives in the library in an aquarium..but the librarian has been ill and the turtle has not been properly cared for. today when i was adding water to the tank i saw tiny tiny red bugs that looked like mites. some were in the clean water and some were in the tank. i now realize that the entire tank needs to be cleaned and i will bathe and ‘oil’ the turtle. i hope to make it well and then, with permission, i hope to set it free~

    Reply
    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Julie,
      Glad you found it useful! After you oil the turtle, make sure you rinse as much of the oil off as possible after it has done its job (give it an hour or so). I realized I hadn’t included this info in the article, and I’ve added it now.

      Also, you may want to find out a bit more about this turtle before releasing it. If it has spent its entire life (or a large portion of it) in captivity, it may not survive being released. Releasing captive box turtles is also illegal in some places. Check out our Can I Release my Box Turtle page for more information.

      Reply

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