Mites, cleaning cages, and a reptile keeper’s secret weapon

We spent today recovering from yesterday, when, as part of our collection-wide treatment for snake mites, we cleaned every reptile cage in the house — all 34 of them.

We’d been on guard for mites for a while, since a snake that had been passed between our collection and a friend’s turned up with mites a while back (it doesn’t really matter who gave who mites, and it’s impossible to tell in any event), but we were reluctant to begin the treatment until we had definite confirmation that mites were present at our end. We only confirmed mites — on three snakes — a week ago today, which set the treatment process in motion.

The treatment involves dichlorvos, the active agent in Vapona pest strips, which is toxic enough that for the three or four days the pieces are kept in containers in the snakes’ cages, their water dishes have to be removed. Because the water dishes had to be removed, we had to defer the dichlorvos treatment until Wednesday, even though mites had been spotted last Sunday, simply because it was ridiculously hot on Tuesday, and I didn’t want the animals to go without water during that. So: dichlorvos from Wednesday morning to Saturday morning, followed by a total cage cleaning on Saturday.

(For more on mite removal, including methods different from the above, see Melissa Kaplan’s page on getting rid of reptile mites. She doesn’t recommend the use of dichlorvos, but many reptile manuals do.)

On Saturday, this is what we did. We took every snake cage outside, sprayed them down with bleach and rinsed them off. Plastic and ceramic cage furniture (such as water dishes) were also bleached and rinsed. Wood furniture (branches, hollow logs) were baked at 175°C for 15 minutes. Cardboard furniture was simply thrown out. Substrate, whether paper towelling or aspen shavings, was replaced. The idea in all of this is to kill and remove any mites or eggs that were not killed by the dichlorvos.

This took us about 10 hours to do, breaks included; I posted an update on Vox midway through, in response to their Question of the Day. It was gruelling in any event, but it would have been even more gruelling if we were not able to rely on the reptile keeper’s secret weapon: child labour.

The neighbour’s kid and his friend are, to put it mildly, snake-obsessed — as all kids should be at their age — and were more than willing to help out. Most kids with snakes on the brain are quite willing to exchange a little light help (in this case, with a garden hose or a towel) for the opportunity to play with snakes, and these kids exceeded my expectations. Wrangling kids as well as snakes slowed us down some, but it was probably better for us that we were: it kept us from tiring out, and they got a chance to play with nearly every animal in the house. So we owe our thanks to Nathan and Curtis, but I don’t think they minded: they kept saying “I love this job!”

So, between the cage cleaning and the child wrangling, and the stuff we had to do to clean up after our basement flooded on Wednesday evening, yeah, we’re pretty pooped.

(Our last bad mite infestation took place in the fall of 2002; we’re being a bit more preemptive this time. See entries from August 28, 2002 and October 12, 2002.)