The Snake Mite

Just as internal parasites are a common source of problems an external problem, the snake mite is also frequently encountered. Frequently also found in lizards, it can be seen as a tiny black speck especially around the head in the small crevices between the scales. They are about the size of ear mites and best seen with a hand lens. They can cause skin irritation and if allowed to build up into large numbers can be very debilitating or even fatal because they are blood feeders.


Dysecdysis is the term used for disorders of skin shedding. All reptiles shed their skins throughout life, the frequency depends on the species and age. Young, rapidly growing animals will shed skin more often than matures reptiles. Shedding of skutes in chelonians and skin in lizards is often piecemeal. Snakes should shed the skin in a single piece.

Dysecdysis can be environmental or pathological, almost any severe illness will result in dysecdysis. The most usual environmental problem is a lack of humidity. Even lizards and snakes that inhabit dry habitats often need a humid place in which to moult, a moulting hide lined with moist moss or vermiculite.

The most common manifestation in practice is a failure of snakes to shed the "spectacle", the scale that covers the eye. Sometimes several sheds will build up on the eyes giving them a dry wrinkled appearance. THIS SHOULD NOT BE REMOVED WITH FORCEPS as is sometimes advocated, and this is likely to cause severe damage or rupture of the eye.
I have found it best if the retained spectacle is moistened several times daily with hypromellose eye drops GENTLY worked in with a cotton bud. It may take a few days but eventually the dried spectacles will come off safely.

In more generalised cases, efforts must be made to see if there is a pathological disease process behind the dysecdysis. Treatment of retained sheds should be with a series of warm water soaks for several hours until the shed skins soften and peel away, this may take several days.

A severe case of a generalised dysecdysis in a corn snake, this animal was diagnosed with renal failure.


Burns are not uncommon, particularly in snakes. You should never under estimate a snake's ability to find something hot and to curl up on it until it has burnt itself and vivaria should be designed with that thought in mind. All heat sources should have guards around them heated mats etc. avoided.

Burns should be treated, as with other animals, with antibiotics and moist dressings.

Typical appearance of burns on a corn snake

Third degree (full thickness) burn

Burns have been debrided and cleaned; a moisture retaining gel applied (intracyte) and the
wounds covered with a transparent dressing. Dressings should be changed weekly.

Healing can take months.

SPLIT SKIN - in boids

This is seen occasionally in boids. The skin spontaneously splits with no other apparent inflammation or cause. This is said to be due to a vitamin-C deficiency but evidence for this is sparse and I believe the true origins of this disease remain to be determined. Until then treatment is suturing of affected splits and vitamin C administration.